Columbia, Missouri – The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded a three-year, US$1.9 million grant to researchers at the University of Missouri and Midwest Research Institute (MRI) to develop a hydrogen storage system for vehicles using corncob-charcoaled briquettes.

“Developmental hydrogen vehicles exist today, but current designs require large, bulky tanks of compressed hydrogen gas to hold the fuel,” said Peter Pfeifer, professor and chair of the Department of Physics. “The tanks also have a relatively small range, only holding enough fuel to travel up to 200 miles (321 km). We will be working on reducing the size and weight of the tank and increasing the storage capacity by developing storage materials that hold hydrogen at a much lower pressure than the current high-pressure tanks. The new tanks will store hydrogen on the surface of appropriately engineered carbons.”

The research is a continuation of previous studies, during which Pfeifer and his colleagues found that corncobs, when reduced to carbon briquettes and “doped” with boron, have a unique ability to store natural gas with high capacity at low pressure, a discovery that allows for more flexible and less bulky fuel tank designs. The researchers will create carbon briquettes with high surface areas from corncobs in a special multi-step process. The high surface area, where one gram of carbon has an area comparable to a football field, is key to a high storage capacity, Pfeifer said. In the second step, boron will be added to the carbon in the briquettes, which greatly increases the carbon’s storage capacity.

The project is one of ten cost-shared hydrogen storage research and development projects recently announced by the DOE as part of the federal government’s Hydrogen Fuel Initiative.

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