Indian-Australian scientist contributes to breakthrough research that could make hydrogen safer to use

Dr Srikanth Mateti said he had to repeat the experiment 20 to 30 times before he could truly believe it himself.

Hydrogen, which can be used as an alternate and sustainable solution to the gas crisis, has a significant problem – how to store it in enormous quantities for regular usage?

Now, it appears that Nanotechnology researchers, Alfred Deakin Professor Ying (Ian) Chen and Dr Srikanth Mateti, working at Deakin University’s Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM) have found an answer.

In a research paper published in the prestigious journal Materials Today they have offered a novel way to separate, store and transport huge amounts of hydrogen gas safely and with almost no wastage.

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Alfred Deakin Professor Ying (Ian) Chen (Deakin University)

Prof. Chen, who is IFM’s Chair of Nanotechnology, said in a statement that Australia is “experiencing an unprecedented gas crisis and needs an urgent solution.” He adds:

“More efficient use of cleaner gaseous fuels such as hydrogen is an alternative approach to reduce carbon emissions and slow global warming.”

The traditional oil refinery methods make up 15 per cent of the world’s energy use. This process uses a high-energy ‘cryogenic distillation’ process to separate crude oil into different gases that are further used by consumers as petrol and household gas.

IFM researchers in their papers have outlined a completely different mechanochemical way of separating and storing gases that use a tiny fraction of the energy and create zero waste.

Dr Srikanth Mateti (LinkedIn)

Dr Mateti did his Master of Technology degree from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, Hyderabad in 2011 and received his PhD degree in 2018 from Deakin University. Since then, he has been working as a Research Fellow at IFM. His research interests include the in situ mechanochemical synthesis and controlled doping of carbon and nitrogen in various nanomaterials, especially nanotubes (boron nitride, carbon), nanosheets (graphene, BN, etc.) using mechanochemistry (high-energy ball milling), as well as in new applications (thermal management, energy storage, and catalysis)

Dr Mateti said he had to repeat the experiment 20 to 30 times before he could truly believe it himself. He adds:

“We were so surprised to see this happen, but each time we kept getting the exact same result, it was a eureka moment.”

This breakthrough is very significant and is considered a departure from accepted scientific wisdom on gas separation and storage. The researchers say that the special ingredient in their process is boron nitride powder. This is great for absorbing substances because “it is so small yet has a large amount of surface area for absorption.”

“The boron nitride powder can be re-used multiple times to carry out the same gas separation and storage process again and again.”

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Alfred Deakin Professor Ying (Ian) Chen and Dr Srikanth Mateti (Deakin University)

Dr Mateti adds:

“There is no waste, the process requires no harsh chemicals and creates no by-products. Boron nitride itself is classified as a level-0 chemical, something that is deemed perfectly safe to have in your house. This means you could store hydrogen anywhere and use it whenever it’s needed.”

Deakin University notes that this breakthrough is the culmination of three decades of work led by Prof. Chen and his team and could help create solid-state storage technologies for a range of gases, including hydrogen.

Prof. Chen said that the current way of storing hydrogen is in a high-pressure tank, or by cooling the gas down to a liquid form. Both require large amounts of energy, as well as dangerous processes and chemicals. He adds:

“We show there’s mechanochemical alternative, using ball milling to store gas in the nanomaterial at room temperature. It doesn’t require high pressure or low temperatures, so it would offer a much cheaper and safer way to develop things like hydrogen powered vehicles.”

With their current research, Deakin’s IFM team has been able to test their process on a small scale, separating about two to three litres of material. Prof. Chen said:

“We need to further validate this method with industry to develop a practical application. To move this from the laboratory to a larger industry scale we need to verify that this process is cost saving, more efficient, and quicker than traditional methods of gas separation and storage.”

The research team is hopeful that with industry support they can scale up to a full pilot and have submitted a provisional patent application for their process.