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Using Graphene to Store Hydrogen
January 31, 2013   
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Polish university researchers in the central city of £ód¼ have teamed up with a private company to develop new graphene-based materials that could used for storing hydrogen. The project, billed as ground-breaking and innovative internationally, includes the construction of a production line for the manufacture of such materials. If the project ends in success, it will benefit the automotive and aerospace industries, the researchers say.

Graphene is a revolutionary new material that could have myriad hi-tech applications and may even replace silicon in the electronic devices of the future. Transparent, flexible and durable, graphene offers a huge range of potential applications in industries including aeronautics and the automotive industry, in addition to electronics, energy generation and storage, medicine, materials engineering, and environmental protection.

The project is being carried out by the Institute of Materials Science and Engineering at the Technical University of £ód¼ together with the Seco/Warwick company from ¦wiebodzin, a town in western Poland.

Experts describe graphene as an allotropic form of carbon. It was isolated and tested for the first time in 2004. For their research into graphene, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, two Russian-born professors from the University of Manchester in Britain, won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Graphene consists of a single layer of carbon atoms that form a flat, practically two-dimensional grid (length and width) with hexagonal meshes and a honeycomb structure. A membrane made of graphene is impermeable for water and gases, but not for water vapor, which offers hope for using it as a filter, researchers say.

Graphene is flexible and transparent and absorbs only 2.3 percent of light. It can be stretched by around 20 percent without undergoing any damage.

The potential number of its uses is almost unlimited, for example in the production and storage of energy, medicine, materials science, and environmental protection, in addition to electronics, aeronautics and the automotive industry. Potential applications also include the production of composite materials, touchscreens, flexible displays, transparent electrodes for use in photovoltaics, super-capacitors in electric vehicles, packaging and protective layers, photodetectors and transistors, conductive plastics and paints, hydrogen storage technology, membranes, sensors, nanoelectric power generators, medical supplies, pharmacology and bacteriology.

However, for the researchers at the Institute of Materials Science and Engineering at the Technical University of £ód¼, the most important thing is that the ultra-light and sturdy graphene could be successfully used as a material for hydrogen storage.

There are already several patented methods in the world for storing hydrogen using carbon materials. None of these methods, however, involves or even suggests the use of graphene.

“The solutions we have developed will form the basis of modern devices using graphene for energy storage for all types of powertrains,” says Prof. Piotr Kula, director of the Institute of Materials Science and Engineering at the Technical University of £ód¼ and head of the team working on the innovative graphene-based materials, which are collectively referred to as GrafRoll.

“Sooner or later the existing oil reserves will run out. An alternative fuel of the future is hydrogen, which can be obtained from water, and when burned water vapor is the only byproduct,” says Kula. “Today we already have hydrogen-powered vehicles, such as buses. The main problem, however, is safety. If the gas is stored in a cylinder under pressure, it may explode during a crash. Safe cylinders are very heavy and contain too little fuel. For example, in buses, the cylinder weighs a ton, and the bus can only travel a distance of 120 km with it. Our technology can guarantee a capacity seven times higher than the current level. It will enable buses to travel up to 800 km with one cylinder, which means the distance traveled by vehicles powered by classic fuel.”

The project is expected to lead to the development of a technology demonstrator, or a prototype line for the production of graphene-based materials capable of storing and releasing hydrogen.

“We do not need perfect graphene,” says Kula. “On the surface of the graphene nanocomposite, we will place pillars from other substances, then roll up everything like a carpet. As a result, a free space will be created between the layers in which hydrogen will be stored. Our idea makes it possible to produce this material at a relatively low cost.”

To create these unique materials, it is necessary to create a spatial structure in individual graphene flakes into which hydrogen will be able to “enter” (as well as “exit”). Graphene has the ability to absorb and release hydrogen (reversion) under the influence of changes in temperature.

The GrafRoll project has a budget of zl.6.2 million. The National Center for Research Development has co-financed it to the tune of zl.4.8 million. The rest has been provided by the industrial partner, the Seco/Warwick company, which intends to manufacture equipment for the production of graphene and functional materials based on it.

Officially, the project started in January 2013, but the scientists had for some time been conducting extensive research in this area. Each day counts in gaining an edge in the global market among potential producers of alternative fuels, the Polish researchers say.

“Our company is in talks with leading automotive companies around the world interested in the project,” says Wojciech Modrzyk, vice-president of Seco/Warwick. “Our technology could also reach the aerospace industry.”

Danuta K. Gruszczyńska


Factfile

In another project focusing on graphene, called Graf-Tech, Poland’s National Center for Research and Development has promised to allocate zl.60 million for the development and application of innovations based on graphene.

The funds available under the Graf-Tech program are expected to enhance the competitiveness of Polish science and the economy and strengthen cooperation between research institutions and businesses interested in applying research results.

The Graf-Tech program supports research and development as well as preparations for implementation. The program aims to encourage the development and implementation of products using the unique properties of graphene. Under the program, research consortiums and scientific centers teaming up with industrial partners will be able to apply for co-financing for projects involving industrial research and development and preparations for implementation.

The Graf-Tech program will be financed from both public and private funds. Co-financing will be granted to anywhere from 12 to 20 projects, with a maximum subsidy of zl.5 million for a single project. Research centers can count on 100-percent reimbursement of their research and development costs.

According to experts working with the National Center for Research and Development, Poland plays a significant role in research on graphene, yet this role needs to be strengthened further.
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