| Darlene Slattery
A grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) is giving FSEC
researcher Darlene Slattery “a great opportunity to work
on something that is just plain good science!”
Slattery is referring to the project called “Nanocrystalline
Al-Mg Alloys for Hydrogen Storage,” a three-year, $300,000
effort she’s heading up with Dr. Fereshteh Ebrahimi of the
University of Florida to look at the use of metal hydrides for
hydrogen storage. Actually, FSEC researchers have been investigating
hydrogen storage possibilities for more than 15 years, but most
of the projects have been U.S. Department of Energy-funded work
that has focused on near-term technologies. This new project gives
Slattery and other researchers the opportunity to work on the fundamental
studies that need to be done.
“What I’m most excited about with this project,” she
explained, “is that it deals with such an important subject.
The big picture is the use of fuel cell-driven vehicles that many
people consider the future of transportation in the U.S., but we’ll
be doing the basic science and studies that hopefully will lead
to a better understanding of how hydrogen is stored in metal hydrides.
The push to develop a working system has led to ignoring the fundamental
lab work necessary to develop a system with the necessary characteristics,
and this NSF grant gives us the opportunity to do that important
The storage of hydrogen on-board a vehicle is one of the biggest
hurdles to the use of fuel cells in transportation. Four general
solutions are being considered by researchers to solve the storage
issues: cryogenic storage of liquid hydrogen, high-pressure storage
of gaseous hydrogen, storage of a chemical that can be re-formed
to hydrogen, and reversible solid-state material storage systems
such as metal hydrides.
| FSEC chemist Darlene Slattery uses the gas
chromatograph to analyze the purity of hydrogen.
It’s the use of a particular class of hydrides called complex
hydrides that may be the most promising technology for use in proton
exchange membrane fuel cells, the most suitable type of fuel cell
for use in cars.
The NSF grant will allow researchers to fabricate nanocrystalline
magnesium alloys (Al-Mg) in the form of powder via electrodeposition,
characterize the microstructural evolution during hydrogenation
and dehydrogenation, and then design an alloy powder with optimized
characteristics. Dr. Slattery is an expert on hydrides and Dr.
Ebrahimi is an expert in electrodeposition and alloy formation,
so the teaming of the two project leaders and their students should
provide answers to many questions regarding the advantages of using
nanostructured materials. Slattery noted that while FSEC staff
have looked at alanates before, this new work involves nanocrystalline
materials – materials with very tiny particles with a shorter
path to the hydrogen, giving them a faster rate of releasing hydrogen
for the fuel cell.
Slattery explained that she hoped this lab work will help develop
a potential material for hydrogen storage that has significant
impact on the development of fuel-cell-driven cars. “But
we’re not at the stage here of talking about building cars,
we’re talking about the science behind the processes to make
it all happen. We’re going to be learning a great deal about
nanocrystalline materials and their suitability for hydrogen storage
while we train graduate and undergraduate students on these materials.
The automotive industry is looking toward the time when their vehicles
can contain enough hydrogen to go 300 miles and release the hydrogen
to the fuel cell. What we’re going to be doing in our labs
are important first steps toward a potential storage solution for
the vehicles of tomorrow. It really is a terrific opportunity for
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