Patent offers significant breakthrough potential for low-cost storage of hydrogen

  • Sept. 10, 2013

The director of the Richard Lugar Renewable Energy Center at IUPUI has been awarded a patent that brings a 40-year-old prediction of hydrogen replacing oil as the next energy source closer to realization.

Ironically, the prediction by General Motors engineers in the 1970s about a “hydrogen economy” may come true first someplace other than the U.S.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued Patent 8,518,856, “Solid-State Hydrogen Storage Media and Catalytic Hydrogen Recharging Thereof,” to Peter Schubert, making it the third patent he has received since joining the center at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis in 2011 and his 37th patent overall. The center is part of the School of Engineering and Technology.

The patent addresses hydrogen storage for fuel-cell applications and uses porous silicon as the storage material, covered by two previous patents. The third patent is the keystone of the entire concept, covering strategic placement of catalyst atoms to facilitate moderate-temperature and moderate-pressure re-charge of hydrogen.

This has significant breakthrough potential because all existing hydrogen storage media now require either extremely high pressures or extremely cold temperatures to store amounts of hydrogen beyond 2 or 3 percent of the weight of the material holding it, Schubert said.

Schubert’s patent theoretically offers the path to reversible, low-cost storage of hydrogen.  Laboratory tests show storage up to 6.6 percent by weight when using porous silicon as a solid-state hydrogen storage media.

If that breakthrough moves hydrogen toward replacing oil as a fuel, that movement is likely to be pursued outside the U.S. in countries that need transportation fuels. In the U.S., an abundance of natural gas that is cheaper than renewable energy has undercut motivation to invest in hydrogen technology, Schubert said.

Schubert is working with Indiana University Research and Technology Corp., which formed Hydrogen Sponge, LLC, to advance the technology. IURTC is a not-for-profit agency that assists faculty and researchers in realizing the commercial potential of their discoveries.

Hydrogen Sponge is preparing a Kickstarter fundraising campaign for experiments to prove the technical feasibility of the technology. The company also is pursuing a federal Small Business Innovation Research grant to help develop lab capabilities.

Schubert and his research team are also looking to China for funding. The team will be presenting papers on this technology and its economic implications at the World Hydrogen Technology Convention in Shanghai, China, Sept. 25 to 28.

“We will be talking to Chinese investors,” Schubert said. “They have the money, and no one in the U.S. seems to be investing in renewable energy.”

Peter Schubert

Peter Schubert

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