Feather fibers fluff up hydrogen storage capacity

Scientists in Delaware say they have developed a new hydrogen storage method -- carbonized chicken feather fibers -- that can hold vast amounts of hydrogen, a promising but difficult to corral fuel source, and do it at a far lower cost than other hydrogen storage systems under consideration.

The research, presented here today at the 13th Annual & Engineering Conference, could eventually help overcome some of the hurdles to using hydrogen fuel in cars, trucks and other machinery.

The conference is organized by the ACS Green Chemistry Institute, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting and advancing the discovery and design of chemical products and processes that eliminate the generation and use of hazardous substances in all aspects of the global chemical enterprise.

"Carbonized chicken feather fibers have the potential to dramatically improve upon existing methods of hydrogen storage and perhaps pave the way for the practical development of a truly hydrogen-based energy economy," says Richard P. Wool, Ph.D., professor of chemical engineering and director of the Affordable Composites from Renewable Resources program at the University of Delaware in Newark.

The research was presented by Erman Senoz, a graduate student in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Delaware in Newark.

Chicken feather fibers are mostly composed of keratin, a natural protein that forms strong, hollow tubes. When heated, this protein creates crosslinks, which strengthen its structure, and becomes more porous, increasing its surface area. The net result is carbonized chicken feather fibers, which can absorb as much or perhaps more hydrogen than carbon nanotubes or metal hydrides, two other materials being studied for their hydrogen storage potential, Wool says. Plus, they're cheap.

Using carbonized chicken feathers would only add about $200 to the price of a car, according to Wool. By comparison, making a 20-gallon hydrogen fuel tank that uses carbon nanotubes could cost $5.5 million; one that uses metal hydrides could cost up to $30,000, Wool says.

Hydrogen, the most common element in the universe, has long been touted as a clean and abundant energy alternative to fossil fuels. But its physical characteristics make it very difficult to store and transport -- as a pressurized gas it takes up about 40 times as much space as gasoline; as a liquid it needs to be kept at extremely low temperatures.

Wool estimates that it would take a 75-gallon tank to go 300 miles in a car using carbonized chicken feather fibers to store hydrogen. He says his team is working to improve that range.

"The problem with hydrogen as a gas or liquid is its density is too low," Wool says. "Using currently available technology, if you had a 20-gallon tank and filled it with hydrogen at typical room temperature and pressure, you could drive about a mile. When we started we didn't know how well carbonized chicken feathers would work for hydrogen storage, but we certainly suspected we could do a lot better than that."

In addition to , Wool and his colleagues are working on ways to transform chicken feather fibers into a number of other products including hurricane-resistant roofing, lightweight car parts and bio-based computer circuit boards.

Source: American Chemical Society (news : web)

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Jun 23, 2009
"clean and abundant energy alternative to fossil fuels"

By people too stupid to understand that it is NOT an energy source. Hydrogen has to be made. Current alternatives are burning natural gas or electrolysis of water. Both approaches are extremely inefficient.

Jun 24, 2009
Wow, better halt scientific breakthroughs becuase they aren't as easy as current methods. wtf kinda logic is that? Sounds more political than scientific imo.

It may not be an energy source but we can produce it much quicker than nature can produce more oil. Hook up a windmill, watermill, solar panel, etc, to electrolysis then how easy/cheap will it be? It's far closer to renewable energy than any fossil fuel and it's far cleaner than any biofuel.

We're eventually going to have to switch from oil so why not go for something renewable and clean at the cost of a little more effort? And when the sea levels lower due to electrolysis aswell as regular precipitation, we'll be praying for someone to create AGW to melt all the worlds ice caps hahaha.

Jun 24, 2009
Wow, better halt scientific breakthroughs becuase they aren't as easy as current methods. wtf kinda logic is that? Sounds more political than scientific imo.

If you bet on the hydrogen economy and bet wrong, YOU halted scientific progress by misallocating precision brain power to doing something useless.

It may not be an energy source but we can produce it much quicker than nature can produce more oil.

Doesn't matter if all you're going to do is steam reform natural gas(that's why the oil companies like the idea of the hydrogen economy so much).

Hook up a windmill, watermill, solar panel, etc, to electrolysis then how easy/cheap will it be?

Monstrously expensive, which is why the hydrogen will come from steam reforming natural gas and in the long run perhaps even coal.

Hydro resource is very limited so that's out. Wind turbines and solar PV are expensive(capacity factor matters, only 15-40% for wind and 20% for solar). With such a terrible capacity factor you pay for a very expensive electrolyser but you only run it for a tiny fraction of the time. Wind and solar have large seasonal variabilities, so that requires an enormous hydrogen storage(probably underground in areas with special geology similar to natural gas wells).

Wind and solar can't even compete with natural gas when they produce electricity(in fact, they are hopelessly reliant on natural gas to smooth out their variability, so they're not really competitors as much as wind and solar is a sales pitch for natural gas. This is why Enron, the gas company, was such a big supporter of wind turbines).

When you make hydrogen gas from natural gas, little of the energy in the natural gas goes wasted; if you make electricity from natural gas about half of the energy content is wasted. When you turn electricity into hydrogen about half of the energy is lost(you can get up to 70% efficiency if you don't mind the cost). That means wind and solar power is going to be about 3-4 times less efficient at producing hydrogen gas than natural gas in comparison to the same situation for electricity.

It's far closer to renewable energy than any fossil fuel and it's far cleaner than any biofuel.

Hydrogen is a fossil fuel; that's what hydrogen is made from and what hydrogen will always be made from as long as fossil fuels exist. In a post-fossil world the hydrogen economy will cease to be; hydrogen will be used only as a chemical feedstock for producing things like N-fertilizer and it will consume a minute fraction of the worlds energy.

We're eventually going to have to switch from oil so why not go for something renewable and clean at the cost of a little more effort?

Because it doesn't work and will lead to the greatest coal binge this world has ever known and all because people who call themselves environmentalists are too squemish about nuclear fission.

Jun 24, 2009
And after it's made, it has to be transported to wherever it's to be used. Pipelines for hydrogen aren't as easy to build as for liquid petroleum products, as they require either very low temperatures or very high pressures. Plus, hydrogen leaks through smaller holes than oil, so the pipes have to be tighter.

That's an engineering challenge that can be overcome since there are hydrogen pipelines now.

Jun 24, 2009
More-over, renewables are not clean. They rely on massive quantities of natural gas(especially wind); they're more of a way to save small quantities of natural gas than they are a stand alone system to produce energy. Manufacturing solar PV is a dirty process and many of them contain toxic compounds like arsenic(in the form of gallium arsenide) and cadmium(in the form of cadmium telluride); at the end of their 20 year life span it is highly doubtful these panels will be recycled.

They waste rare earth metals like indium(ITO transparent electrode and CIS and CIGS panels), tellurium(CdTe thin film), Neodymium(massive permanent magnet in wind turbines). The indium and tellurium will likely never be recycled, because it's quite diluted and hard to separate from the solar panels. At present rates there's only somewhere around a decade until we run out of indium, that's hardly sustainable; without a replacement that makes several types of thin-film cells obsolete.

A large scale expansion of wind power would run into problems with neodymium, which would require heavier substitutes that add significantly to the weight of generator and therefor the amount of steel you need in the shaft. The massive expansion of the electrical grid that renewables requires(for they produce electricity only some of the time, but you pay for the transmission capacity all the time. The best places for wind and solar tend to be in the middle of nowhere). Long transmission lines mean a large area of land where herbicides and men with chainsaws will be used to keep trees under control. Every wind farm you build on a hilltop needs a large access road capable of dealing with very heavy machinery and wide loads. In 20 years when the wind turbine is defunct it's unlikely they will be properly recycled as the massive cranes used to assemble them are very expensive; more likely they will be demolished with explosives and the bits that are attractive(copper and neodymium in particular) recycled.

If you tried to do away with the natural gas you would need gob-smackingly huge amounts of electrical energy storage. The most likely alternatives with current technology are pumped hydro storage, which would require building massive lakes by hand since there are way too few good sites. The only way to move sizable amounts of earth very quickly is with a huge arsenal of atomic weapons; this will never happen.

Jun 24, 2009
That's an engineering challenge that can be overcome since there are hydrogen pipelines now.

It is overcome by accepting that sizeable amounts of hydrogen will leak and by limiting the distance.

Jun 25, 2009
If you pick straw persons to knock down, you will always win an argument. Ignoring the alarmists on the subject of radiation for the moment, nuclear power generates enormous amounts of waste heat that is seldom well used and, there is the mining and manufacturing process that is involved in providing the fuel. And, of course, though the rules say we can no longer broach the subject, there is the problem of disposal when a plant reaches end-of-life. Hydrogen is inefficiently produced from water at this point in time, so we need some fairly cheap source of power that works 24x7 and that does not have thermal or life cycle implications, and there is really only one, satellite based solar power(SBSP or SSP). In the process of solving that problem, we can solve most of your rare metal problems on the way. Demo plants in GSO will have to be boosted from Earth, but the raw materials are out there in the asteroid belt for the taking. Those asteroids in the 100 meter range will also provide ideal habitat and manufacturing sites for the people who will work to build the solar plants that we will need and do the maintenance that will be required.

Eventually, we will have the materials to produce reasonable electric vehicles on Earth that these can supply, but fuel cells are not a bad intermediate. It appears that the Aussies have a workable plastic catalyst that does not require platinum or palladium or any other hyper-expensive material, so I believe that we can get to workable, affordable fuel cells. What is absolutely necessary, not just for alternatives, but our future electric economy, is a more efficient and more widely available grid, much like the national highway system put in place by Eisenhower. Without that, we will not succeed with any proposed future system of which I am aware. It will be difficult and labor intensive, but nothing like the effort that goes into the simplest of highways. This is just the logical and necessary next step. the only way for this to happen is to have leadership that makes it an absolute priority, and that has not yet happened. We shall see.

Jun 27, 2009
Soylent, How come you are so wrong so much of the time? Your statement about RE are directly opposite of the real life facts. While individual solar, wind might be variable, all together they average out.
And solar mostly happens when power is needed most so much more valuable than other sources.
Solar thermal can be fired by biomass or any fuel also so the utility can have it on call. Or it can store the heat and generate on demand.

Jun 28, 2009
Since hydrogen fuel cells are essentially very expensive batteries, why not just use better batteries and bypass hydrogen altogether? If someone can launch and prove the viability of solar power satellites we can also bypass land-based solar, wind, nuclear and still move away from fossil fuels for energy use. And I don't doubt the new moon probe is going to look for Helium-3 for future fusion research, as well as H2O. Water would make colonization much quicker and easier and gaining a monopoly on Helium-3 would be very advantageous as well.

Hydrogen is not a fuel and no one has yet come up with a means of generating it that doesn't require a good deal more energy than the hydrogen itself can provide. Progress is being made but it still seems like a blind alley. It's only slightly more feasible than powering a car with compressed air but it's much more expensive.

Jun 29, 2009
We cannot get from here to a hydrogen economy in a single leap. A necessary intermediate step could be based on cars running on biofuel (butanol, ethanol), electric cars with better batteries or various hybrids. Who knows, maybe one of those options turn out so well that the hydrogen option becomes unnecessary :-)
And while the development teams sloooowly make progress on cheaper fuel cells, it would be nice if someone also worked on cheaper hydrogen storage systems.

Jul 01, 2009
Enough already with perpetuating the myth that Hydrogen is too expensive to generate!

It's been proven that solar power can be used to convert water to hydrogen in a very efficient manner. If a home had a system installed it would only take a few days/weeks to produce enough basic capacity to fulfill basic energy requirements for a household. Combine that with solar roofing, solar heating, solar on cars, wind power and we have everything we need to use the sun, rain and wind as our fundamental fuel sources for residential energy requirements. Houses then become the energy source instead of a centralised power plant. Each house feeds back unneeded energy to the grid and the city becomes the power source. It's all about intelligent systems design and efficiency.

We have all the resources and technology to make this happen now. It's only the will that is missing.

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