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    The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
    • 2016-10-07 16:05:21
    • Article ID: 662443

    Six Things You Might Not Know About Hydrogen

    • Credit: science photo/Shutterstock

      Hydrogen fuel cells, like the one shown above, could provide many advantages and pathways for cleaner energy use.

    October 8th is National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Day. To celebrate, here are a few things you might not know about hydrogen and fuel cells.

    Why is National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Day celebrated on October 8th?

    The day is celebrated on October 8 (10/08) because the atomic weight of hydrogen is 1.008 atomic mass units.

    Why should I care about hydrogen? What is it good for?

    Hydrogen is an important chemical for many industrial processes, most notably in the production of ammonia, which is used to make the fertilizer used to grow food, and in petroleum refining, where hydrogen is used to produce gasoline. Other uses include metal refining and the semiconductor industry, where it is used to make computer chips in phones and tablets.

    Hydrogen can also be used as a fuel to power cars and heat buildings. The most important benefit of using hydrogen as a fuel is that when you burn it, the byproduct is just water. Hydrogen can also be used as a way to store energy, and this use has the potential to have a large impact on our future. Hydrogen can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, integrate renewable energy into the grid and reduce the use of petroleum and other fossil fuels.

    What is a fuel cell and how does it work?

    A fuel cell is a device, similar to a battery, that converts the energy stored in chemical bonds to electrical energy. Fuel cells are more efficient than traditional combustion methods to convert fuel into electrical energy.Unlike a battery, a fuel cell isn't recharged, but is rather supplied with a flow of fuel (like hydrogen) that it reacts with an oxidant (like air or pure oxygen), which is then converted to electrical energy.

    It's cleaner, too. When hydrogen is the fuel, the only byproduct is water — unlike our common combustion engines, which can create harmful byproducts like nitrogen oxides.

    What are fuel cells used for?

    Fuel cells can be used almost anywhere that there is a need for electrical power. They are more efficient than combustion engines and have higher reliability and lower emissions. In cars, fuel cells can provide faster refueling and longer ranges than current generations of batteries.

    Over 60,000 fuel cells were shipped worldwide in 2015. Fuel cells are being used to provide backup power to telecommunications centers and cell phone towers, where their higher reliability and lower maintenance more than makes up for the higher initial equipment cost.

    Hydrogen fuel cells can also replace natural gas in combined heat and power plants, which are used to generate usable heat and power simultaneously as decentralized generation. Fuel cell systems can convert up to 90 percent of the energy in the fuel (natural gas or hydrogen) into electrical power and useful heat. There are currently thousands of small units providing electrical power and hot water to homes in Japan, as well as in hospitals, hotels and at companies with a large demand for hot water or steam. Fuel cells are also being used at electric utilities to provide clean, reliable power to the grid.

    In transportation, fuel cells offer the potential for efficient electric vehicles with the same range and refueling times customers have become accustomed to, while limiting the tailpipe emissions to only water. They are already being used in bicycles, cars, buses, trucks and even trains and planes. In California, there are now over 700 hydrogen fuel cell cars on the road and over 20 retail hydrogen fueling stations, with another 20 in development. Fuel cell cars can travel long distances before needing to be refueled (250-350 miles), and can be refueled in approximately the same time it takes to refuel your current gasoline-powered vehicle (three to five minutes).

    What's holding fuel cells back, and what's being done to get more fuel cells out there?

    While hydrogen and fuel cells are competitive in some applications, and some fuel cell vehicles are on the road, costs are still too high to be widely accepted in the market. Fuel cells have to get cheaper, while still achieving the durability and performance that people are accustomed to. Researchers have identified several key areas for cost reduction, including hydrogen storage and delivery and fuel cell materials costs.

    Current commercial fuel cells use platinum, a rare and expensive metal, as the catalyst. Researchers are working on new catalysts that use less of this expensive metal, or that don't need platinum at all.

    Lastly, for the adoption of fuel cell-powered cars, the number of hydrogen refueling stations must increase and they must be distributed across the country.

    What research is Argonne doing on hydrogen and fuel cells?

    Four different divisions at the lab conduct research in hydrogen and fuel cells, ranging from studies of the environmental impacts of fuel cell vehicles to developing new catalysts. Argonne is a partner in two new U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) consortia aimed at reducing cost and improving the performance and durability of fuel cells to extend their adoption in the marketplace. Argonne researchers lead efforts in modeling and validation and in studies of fuel cell electrode layers for DOE's Fuel Cell Consortium for Performance and Durability. These studies focus on determining the relationships between structure, composition and performance in the electrode layer of fuel cells to optimize the performance and durability of polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells, the most commonly used commercial fuel cell.

    Argonne and Los Alamos National Laboratory co-lead a second DOE fuel-cell-focused consortium, ElectroCat, that is accelerating the development of fuel cell catalysts that do not use expensive platinum-group metals. ElectroCat focuses on generating, analyzing, and evaluating catalyst candidates in a high-throughput laboratory.

    Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America's scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

    The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit the Office of Science website.

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    Researchers switch material from one state to another with a single flash of light

    Scientists from the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have demonstrated a surprisingly simple way of flipping a material from one state into another, and then back again, with single flashes of laser light.

    The Stories Behind the Science: How Does the Ocean's Saltiness Affect Tropical Storms?

    Two researchers with personal experience of hurricanes set out to investigate the role of an underestimated factor in storm's strength - salinity. They found that salinity plays a larger role than anyone thought, including them.

    Surprise finding: Discovering a previously unknown role for a source of magnetic fields

    Feature describes unexpected discovery of a role the process that seeds magnetic fields plays in mediating a phenomenon that occurs throughout the universe and can disrupt cell phone service and knock out power grids on Earth.

    Genetic behavior reveals cause of death in poplars essential to ecosystems, industry

    Scientists studying a valuable, but vulnerable, species of poplar have identified the genetic mechanism responsible for the species' inability to resist a pervasive and deadly disease. Their finding could lead to more successful hybrid poplar varieties for increased biofuels and forestry production and protect native trees against infection.

    Pushing the (Extra Cold) Frontiers of Superconducting Science

    Ames Laboratory has developed a method to measure magnetic properties of superconducting and magnetic materials that exhibit unusual quantum behavior at very low temperatures in high magnetic fields.

    Scientists Find Unusual Behavior in Topological Material

    Argonne scientists have identified a new class of topological materials made by inserting transition metal atoms into the atomic lattice of a well-known two-dimensional material.

    Wind Farms and Reducing Hurricane Precipitation

    New research reveals an unexpected benefit of large-scale offshore wind farms: the ability to lessen precipitation from hurricanes.

    New simulations confirm efficiency of waste-removal process in plasma device

    PPPL scientists have found evidence suggesting that a process could remove the unwanted ash produced during fusion reactions and make the fusion processes more efficient within a type of fusion facility known as a field-reversed configuration device.

    How Animals Use Their Tails to Swish and Swat Away Insects

    A new study shows how animals use their tails to keep mosquitoes at bay by combining a swish that blows away most of the biting bugs and a swat that kills the ones that get through.

    Missing gamma-ray blobs shed new light on dark matter, cosmic magnetism

    Scientists, including researchers from the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, have compiled the most detailed catalog of such blobs using eight years of data collected with the Large Area Telescope (LAT) on NASA's Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope. The blobs, including 19 gamma-ray sources that weren't known to be extended before, provide crucial information on how stars are born, how they die, and how galaxies spew out matter trillions of miles into space.


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    Engineering professor receives Department of Energy grant

    New Mexico State University Department of Civil Engineering Assistant Professor Ehsan Dehghan Niri has received a United States Department of Energy grant. This is a three-year award for $400,000 and is a collaboration with Arizona State University.

    AVS and AIP Publishing Expand Partnership to Launch AVS Quantum Science

    AIP Publishing and AVS: Science and Technology of Materials, Interfaces, and Processing (AVS) today announced an agreement to publish AVS Quantum Science, a new online interdisciplinary journal. The announcement coincides with the AVS 65th International Symposium & Exhibition in Long Beach, California, from October 21-26, 2018.

    Prototype Solar Energy, Battery Systems to Fuel Commercialization

    Designing, building and testing prototype systems that show how renewable energy can power devices, such as a weather and soil sensor station, can help bridge the gap between basic science research and commercialization.

    Argonne to Advance High Performance Computing in Manufacturing

    Argonne awarded funding to partner with Industry to advance the use of high performance computing in manufacturing.

    "Invisible Glass" Wins 2018 Create the Future Design Contest Grand Prize

    Scientists from the Center for Functional Nanomaterials developed a technique for making nonreflecting glass, silicon, and plastic surfaces.

    Missouri S&T researchers win multimillion dollar grant to build fast-charging stations for electric cars

    Researchers from Missouri S&T and three private companies will combine their expertise to create charging stations for electric vehicles that could charge a car in less than 10 minutes - matching the time it takes to fill up a conventional vehicle with gasoline."The big problem with electric vehicles is range, and it's not so much range as range anxiety.

    Making batteries store more energy, last longer

    A new solid polymer electrolyte may help make cell phone batteries store more energy and last longer.

    Three Brookhaven Lab Scientists Named Fellows of American Physical Society

    The American Physical Society (APS), the world's largest physics organization, has elected three scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory as 2018 APS fellows.

    Southern Research first to win accreditation under ISO 14034

    Southern Research has become the first organization in the United States to earn accreditation under ISO 14034, a new international standard for evaluating and verifying environmental technologies that was recently adopted by the American National Standards Institute.

    Kawtar Hafidi to head Physical Sciences and Engineering directorate at Argonne

    Physicist Kawtar Hafidi has been appointed Associate Laboratory Director, Physical Sciences and Engineering at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory.


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    Cryocooler Cools an Accelerator Cavity

    Researchers demonstrated cryogen-free operation of a superconducting radio-frequency cavity that might ease barriers to its use in societal applications.

    Shining Light on the Separation of Rare Earth Metals

    New studies identify key molecular characteristics to potentially separate rare earth metals cleanly and efficiently with light.

    Placing Atoms for Optimum Catalysts

    Precise positioning of oxygens could help engineer faster, more efficient energy-relevant chemical transformations.

    How to Make Soot and Stardust

    Scientists unlock mystery that could help reduce emissions of fine particles from combustion engines and other sources.

    Breaking the Symmetry Between Fundamental Forces

    Scientists improve our understanding of the relationship between fundamental forces by re-creating the earliest moments of the universe.

    Water Plays Unexpected Role in Forming Minerals

    Water molecules line up tiny particles to attach and form minerals; understanding how this happens impacts energy extraction and storage along with waste disposal.

    Heavy Particles Get Caught Up in the Flow

    First direct measurement show how heavy particles containing a charm quark get caught up in the flow of early universe particle soup.

    Seeing Between the Atoms

    New detector enables electron microscope imaging at record-breaking resolution.

    Scaling Up Single-Crystal Graphene

    New method can make films of atomically thin carbon that are over a foot long.

    Discovered: Optimal Magnetic Fields Suppress Instabilities in Tokamak Plasmas

    U.S. and Korean scientists show how to find and use beneficial 3-D field perturbations to stabilize dangerous edge-localized modes in plasma.


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