Thanks to boron nitride, a revolution for the powdered hydrogen of the future

Thanks to boron nitride, a revolution for the powdered hydrogen of the future


Australian scientists claim to have made a discovery paving the way for a revolution in the production and storage in powder of hydrogen which, if produced with carbon-free energy, will constitute a fuel of the future and one of the bricks of the necessary global energy transition.

Mechano-chemical, the process is presented in a press release published by Deakin University, Australia, on which the team depends. “The discovery is so important – and represents such a difference with the commonly accepted knowledge of gas separation and storage – that the chief scientist, Dr. Srikanth Mateti, explained that he had to repeat his experiment twenty to thirty times before to be able to truly believe what he saw”explains the text.

Although they are now well mastered, the transformation and storage of hydrogen remain sensitive areas from a security point of view. In the event of a leak, the gas is also not without risk – significant – for the environment.

The solution to these inconveniences could be boron nitride, a resistant and thermally stable chemical compound, rather common and well known because already widely used, both in the cosmetics industry, in that of paint or in that of metal processing.

In powder form, boron nitride has interesting absorption capabilities, explains Interesting Engineering. These are the ones that have been put to good use by researchers in a so-called “mechanical-chemical” process using a “ball mill”, a very simple rotating chamber in which metal balls help separate gases .

By adding boron nitride to the ball mill and rotating it at high speed, the Australian scientists realized that, under certain specific conditions, the chemical compound could absorb hydrogen. This therefore makes it possible to store the gas in the form of a powder, which can then be simply transported at ambient temperature and without great danger.

Finally, it suffices to heat the powder in an empty chamber to extract the hydrogen again in the form of gas – the boron nitride can even be reused in a new cycle. We are therefore far from the usual and complex needs of the production, storage and transport of hydrogen. So far that the process could have a rapid and significant impact on the entire sector.

Eureka, eureka, eureka

But that’s not all. This eureka is multifaceted, each carrying great hopes. Even before providing a possible fuel that is easy and inexpensive to produce, transport and store safely for our rolling or flying vehicles of the future, the process presented by Srikanth Mateti and his team could quickly have significant repercussions on the processes used. in oil refineries.

As explained by New Atlas, many of today’s refineries use a method called “cryogenic distillation” to extract useful elements from crude oil. However, according to the Deakin University team, the process used for hydrogen and based on boron nitride and mechano-chemistry could very advantageously replace cryogenic distillation in oil refineries.

In their small-scale experiments, they thus explain that if the process requires time, the energy savings could be around 90%, all for a much lower cost.

These are colossal differences and which, if they can be used on an industrial scale, could have important consequences for the industry: according to a study published in 2016, the cryogenic distillation and chemical separation of the elements of petroleum represent between 10 % and 15% of overall energy consumption.

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