An international team of scientists and engineers has discovered a solution to a long-standing scientific problem of storing gases in common minerals.
It could form the basis for a cheap and efficient way to power hydrogen-fuelled vehicles of the future.
The study, published in Nature Communications, was led by researchers from The Fluid Science and Resources Group and The Australian Centre for LNG Futures at The University of Western Australia.
For more than 50 years, scientists have known that at lower temperatures the ability of many materials to absorb and store gas molecules suddenly switches off.
However, until now, there has been no clear explanation for this behaviour, and as a result no way to make use of it.
The team combined atomic-level calculations with challenging experiments covering a wide range of temperature and pressure to develop an explanation for this phenomenon.
They also demonstrated how a particular porous material can have different temperatures at which it admits or releases certain gas molecules.
In doing so, they established a new method of storing substantial quantities of energy-rich and clean-burning gases, such as hydrogen, at low pressures.
This means new sensing, separation and storage processes can now be designed for a range of gases using either cheap, naturally occurring minerals, known as zeolites, or a range of new designer materials known as ‘metal-organic frameworks’, developed for carbon capture and storage applications.
Dr Gang (Kevin) Li from UWA’s School of Chemical Engineering said the capability to choose whether a certain gas can enter or leave a porous material by simply changing temperature opens up opportunities across a wide range of industries industries including energy storage, molecular sensing, and isotope separations.
“The ability of porous materials to admit certain gas molecules into their microstructure is crucial to many industrial applications, ranging from air separation for medical use to natural gas dehydration,” Dr Li said.
Corresponding author, Professor Eric May said one of the next steps is to develop separation technologies for cleaning up a variety of gas streams.
“We are working to deploy this and related technologies for cleaning up low grade natural gas and capturing fugitive emissions through our industry partners,” Professor May said.
The research was funded through the Australian Research Council and the team has plans to establish gas capture technologies that will be deployed initially in Australia and China, using funding recently awarded from the Federal Government’s Global Innovation Linkage program.