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Hydrogen Just Became More Attractive as an Energy Source Through Containment Breakthrough



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Hydrogen, the lightest element in the universe, is represented by the symbol H. It has an atomic number of 1 and is the most commonly found element. It is the simplest chemical element, with just one proton and one electron, and is colorless, tasteless, and odorless. 

Interestingly, hydrogen contributes an estimated 75% of the universe's mass. However, it comprises only about 0.14% of Earth's crust by weight. It occurs naturally in compound form with other elements in solids, liquids, and gases. And when combined with oxygen, this flammable substance forms water (H2O), and in combination with carbon, it forms hydrocarbon, which is found in petroleum and coal. So, hydrogen can be produced from a number of resources, including renewable power like solar and wind, nuclear power, and natural gas. 

Notably, multiple discoveries have been made of naturally forming pockets of hydrogen gas in countries like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and Russia. Currently, scientists are exploring the extent of these reserves in these countries, along with their origins and the potential effects on surrounding environments if extracted.

Hydrogen as an Energy Source

The most common methods to produce hydrogen fuel include thermal, electrolysis, photovoltaic-driven electrolysis, solar-driven, and biological processes. 


In the thermal process, steam reacts with a hydrocarbon fuel like diesel, natural gas, gasified coal, or gasified biomass to produce H. Notably, the majority (about 95%) of all hydrogen is produced from steam reforming of natural gas. 


Electrolysis, meanwhile, includes separating water into oxygen and hydrogen. This process takes place in an electrolyzer and creates hydrogen from water molecules.


Biological processes utilize microbes that can’t be seen with the naked eye, such as bacteria, to produce hydrogen. 


The solar-driven process, as the name suggests, uses light for the reproduction of H through various ways such as photoelectrochemical (uses specialized semiconductors to separate water into H and O), photobiological (uses the natural photosynthetic activity of bacteria and green algae), and solar thermochemical (uses concentrated solar power to drive water splitting reactions).

In addition to all of its qualities, hydrogen is also a clean fuel, meaning it only produces water, heat, and electricity when consumed in a fuel cell. This makes it an attractive option for electricity generation and transportation, including cars and rockets. The energy-dense and storable substance that produces no greenhouse gases was actually used to power internal combustion engines more than two centuries ago. 

These show that hydrogen is one of the leading options for storing renewable energy and is also being used in many industries. However, it's true potential is yet to be realized. For that, hydrogen needs to be produced at scale economically. Also, the current infrastructure needs to adapt to hydrogen, though it can be transported through gas pipelines.

Although we haven't fully tapped into the wonders of using hydrogen as fuel, global spending on research and development to explore the full potential of hydrogen as an energy source has been rising over the years. A recent study, in fact, has made a major breakthrough in this respect, enabling high-density storage of hydrogen for future energy systems.

Framework to Store Densely Packed Hydrogen

Published in the journal Nature Chemistry last month, the study, “Small-pore hydridic frameworks store densely packed hydrogen,” was funded in part by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) and the German Research Foundation (DFG).

While nanoporous materials have been generating a lot of attention for gas storage, the study noted that achieving high volumetric storage capacity continues to be a challenge. So, several researchers from different universities came together to address this issue.

Michael Hirscher, from Japan’s Advanced Institute for Materials Research (WPI-AIMR) at Tohoku University and Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, conceived the original ideas and supervised the project. Meanwhile, Hyunchul Oh of Korea’s Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) led this project.

Interestingly, in 2022, a team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the Technische Universität Dresden, and the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg showed that hydrogen condenses on a surface at a very low temperature near the H2 boiling point. This process forms a super-dense monolayer, surpassing the density of liquid hydrogen by 3x, which reduces the volume to only 5 liters per kilogram of H2.

Now, the latest study in question investigated a magnesium borohydride framework by utilizing neutron powder diffraction, inelastic neutron scattering, volumetric gas adsorption, and first-principles calculations. The framework has small pores and a partially negatively charged non-flat interior for hydrogen (H) and nitrogen (N) uptake. 

Both nitrogen and hydrogen occupy noticeably different adsorption sites in the pores. They both also have very different limiting capacities of 0.66 N2 and 2.33 H2 per Mg(BH4)2. Mg(BH4)2, first discovered in 1950, is known as a high-capacity hydrogen storage material that exists both as crystalline polymorphs with nanoporous MOF-like structures as well as very dense polymorphs with extreme volumetric hydrogen density and high gravimetric hydrogen capacity.

So, when it comes to molecular hydrogen, it is packed extremely densely, with its density being about twice that of liquid hydrogen. 

The team then used neutron powder diffraction (NPD) to determine the position of the hydrogen atoms in the structure along with the molecules’ adsorption sites. 

The study noted that a penta-dihydrogen cluster (dihydrogen consists of two hydrogens joined by a single bond) was found where H2 molecules in one position have rotational freedom. In contrast, H2 molecules in another position have a well-defined orientation and a directional interaction with the framework. This reveals that densely packed hydrogen can actually be stabilized in small-pore materials under normal atmospheric pressures.

With this revelation, the team has successfully addressed the challenge of limited hydrogen storage capacity by using advanced high-density adsorption technology. 

This groundbreaking development was reported by Professor Oh in the Department of Chemistry at UNIST. The innovative research marks a significant advancement in future energy systems. 

Enabling the Large-scale Hydrogen Storage

Large Scale Hydrogen Storage

When it comes to using hydrogen in transportation, stationary power, and portable power, storage plays a key role. While the element has the highest energy per mass, its low ambient temperature density results in a lower energy per unit volume. Therefore, advanced storage methods are needed to achieve higher energy density.

Currently, the storage technology primarily focuses on molecular hydrogen storage in either liquid or gas form. But, of course, there are limits to this current tech in terms of volumetric and gravimetric (how much energy per gram or kilogram can be stored) storage density.

Storing hydrogen as a gas requires high-pressure tanks, while as liquids, cryogenic temperatures are needed. It can also be stored on the surface or within a solid via absorption.

As a molecule, hydrogen can be physically adsorbed in a material containing pores (voids) by weak van der Waals interactions (which are relatively weak and nonionic in nature) through physisorption. It refers to a process where gas molecules attach to a solid surface. However, while highly porous materials do offer high gravimetric hydrogen uptake, improvements are needed in the volumetric storage capacity.

This is where nanoporous cubic magnesium borohydride, γ-Mg(BH4)2, offers great results. It has a density of ρ = 0.550 g cm−3 and 33% free pore volume. A pore diameter of ∼9 Å allows this compound to adsorb small molecules like hydrogen or nitrogen. It is through this porous hydride’s partially negatively charged inner surface that hydridic atoms get exposed to the pores.

Made possible through the Mid-Career Research Program by NFR and the Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT), the study synthesized this nanoporous complex hydride comprising magnesium cation (Mg+) and magnesium hydride, and solid boron hydride (BH4)2.

The resulting material enables the storage of five hydrogen molecules in a 3D arrangement, achieving remarkable high-density hydrogen storage. It further shows a hydrogen storage capacity of 144 g/L per volume of pores, far exceeding traditional methods. Impressively, the density of hydrogen molecules within the material even surpasses that of the solid state.

Describing the material as a “paradigm shift” in the world of hydrogen storage, Professor Oh said it offers “a compelling alternative to traditional approaches.” 

This development significantly improves the productivity and economic efficiency of utilizing hydrogen as an energy source. It further tackles the challenges of storing hydrogen at a large scale for widespread use in public and personal transportation applications.

Companies That Stand to Benefit From This Development 

If we talk about the industries that can benefit from such research, which is transforming hydrogen storage, a wide range of sectors comes to mind, including chemical, energy, automotive, engineering, and construction. So, let’s take a look at some of the companies that can gain from this: 

#1. Honda Motor Co., Ltd.

The Japan-based automobile company has promised to reduce its CO2 emissions and claims to be one of the first companies to focus on the potential of hydrogen energy. 

To achieve these goals, Honda Motor Company has been researching fuel cell technologies since the 1980s for a variety of applications. 

Earlier this year, the company announced that it had begun production of hydrogen fuel cell power solutions in collaboration with General Motors (GM) for various product applications and what they call “the beginning of the hydrogen era.”

finviz dynamic chart for  HMC

With a market cap of $64.85 bln, the shares of the company are trading at $36.93, up 19.22% year-to-date (YTD). Honda Motor has posted revenue (TTM) of $128.49 bln and has an EPS (TTM) of 7.73 and P/E (TTM) of 4.77. The company also pays a dividend yield of 2.77%.

#2. Dow Chemical Company

The Dow Chemical Company is involved in various sectors, including Hydrocarbons & Energy. Recently, it partnered with Linde (NYSE: LIN) to supply clean hydrogen and nitrogen for its net-zero carbon emissions integrated ethylene cracker and derivatives site in Canada. The deal was finalized late last year for the $6.5 billion project. As a part of the deal, it will deploy Linde’s air separation and auto-thermal reformer tech to convert the site's cracker off-gas to hydrogen.

finviz dynamic chart for  DOW

With a market cap of over $39.9 bln, Dow Chemical's shares are trading at $56.76, up 3.5% YTD. Dow Chemical has posted revenue (TTM) of $44.62 bln, an EPS (TTM) of 0.81, and a P/E (TTM) of 69.67. The company also pays a dividend yield of 4.93%.

#3. McPhy Energy SA

The France-based company develops hydrogen production and storage solutions. Last year, McPhy expanded its commercial agreement with Chart Industries, Inc. (NYSE: GTLS), under which the latter will provide hydrogen-related processes and equipment for hydrogen compression and hydrogen liquefaction. 

Most recently, the leading electrolyzer technology and manufacturing company won a contract from Sweden’s AAK AB to supply its 800-30 electrolyzer with a capacity of 4 MW and related spare parts that will allow the Swedish company to use low-carbon hydrogen as a process gas.

With a market cap of 47.18 bln, the shares of the company (MCPHY-FR: Euronext Paris) are trading at EUR 1.69, down 49.97% YTD. It has an EPS (TTM) of -0.69 and a P/E (TTM) of -1. Last month, McPhy reported the result of the 2023 financial year, in which it saw annual revenue growth of +17% to €18.8 million and even higher growth of +25% for its electrolyzer business. It also reported a cash position of around €62 million at the end of December.


The hydrogen energy storage market is poised for rapid growth, projected to surpass the valuation of $17.6 bln in the next eight years as governments heavily invest in hydrogen-based infrastructure, according to Global Market Insights. Notably, the transportation segment is anticipated to drive significant growth, with a projected 10% CAGR, fueled by hydrogen's role in substantially reducing carbon emissions within the industry. 

Given hydrogen’s potential as a cleaner and more efficient energy source, it will continue to be adopted not only in transportation but also in other industries. With ongoing research and new findings, we will finally be able to see much wider adoption, helping us achieve net-zero carbon emissions.

Click here for the list of the top five green ammonia stocks (the other hydrogen). 

Gaurav started trading cryptocurrencies in 2017 and has fallen in love with the crypto space ever since. His interest in everything crypto turned him into a writer specializing in cryptocurrencies and blockchain. Soon he found himself working with crypto companies and media outlets. He is also a big-time Batman fan.