Nano-palladium particles turn into tiny 'hydrogen storage tanks' and release hydrogen again with just a little heat


An innovative approach could turn nanoparticles into simple storehouses for storing hydrogen gas. The highly volatile gas is considered a promising energy carrier for the future, providing climate-friendly fuel for things like planes, ships and trucks, and allowing for climate-friendly steel and cement production - depending on how the hydrogen is produced . However, storing hydrogen is costly: either the gas is kept in pressurized tanks at up to 700 bar, or it has to be liquefied, which means cooling it to minus 253 degrees Celsius, both processes that consume additional energy.

A team led by Andreas Stierle at the German Electron Synchrotron (DESY) has laid the groundwork for an alternative method that stores hydrogen in tiny nanoparticles made of the precious metal palladium, only 1.2 nanometers in diameter. The fact that palladium can absorb hydrogen like a sponge is already known. However, getting the hydrogen out of the material again has been a problem until now, which is why we are trying palladium particles that are only about a nanometer in diameter.

To make sure the tiny particles are strong enough, they are stabilized by a core made of the rare and precious metal iridium. Additionally, they were attached to a graphene scaffold, which is an extremely thin layer of carbon. "We were able to attach palladium particles to graphene at intervals of only 2.5 nanometers, which resulted in a regular, periodic structure," reports Stierle, who is head of the DESY nanolab. The team also included researchers from Researchers at the Universities of Cologne and Hamburg, who published their findings in ACS Nano, the journal of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

DESY's X-ray source PETRA III was used to observe what happens when palladium particles come into contact with hydrogen gas. Basically, the hydrogen gas sticks to the surface of the nanoparticles, and hardly any hydrogen gas penetrates inside. These nanoparticles can be imagined to be similar to chocolate. In the center is a grain of iridium, surrounded by a layer of palladium, not marzipan, with a chocolate coating of hydrogen gas. All that is needed to recover the stored hydrogen is the addition of a small amount of heat, and the hydrogen is released from the particle's surface quickly because the gas molecules don't have to be squeezed out from inside the cluster.



Next, we wanted to figure out what storage densities can be achieved using this new method, however, there are still some challenges to overcome before practical applications. For example, other forms of carbon structures may be more suitable supports than graphene -- experts are considering using carbon sponges that contain tiny pores. A large number of palladium gold nanoparticles should fit in these pores.

This and other innovative concepts for the hydrogen economy and sustainable energy supply are explored in the latest issue of the DESY research journal femto. The journal explains how fundamental research can contribute to innovation in the energy transition. This involves not only using hydrogen as an energy carrier, but also sustainable solar cells and new forms of energy production, as well as achieving greater energy efficiency in the research itself, for example when operating large particle accelerators.

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