In a surprising turn of events, researchers at Penn State University have unveiled a groundbreaking proposal for hydrogen storage: coal.
Traditionally viewed as a contributor to climate change, coal is now being considered as a potential clean fuel source. With the challenges of safely and efficiently transporting hydrogen, the team at Penn State capitalized on coal’s natural gas storage capabilities and designed a pressurization device to inject hydrogen into coal. Their research has shown promising results, suggesting that coal could be an effective medium for hydrogen storage.
Hydrogen has long been hailed as a fuel of the future due to its environmentally friendly byproduct—water. However, storing and transporting hydrogen has proven to be a significant hurdle. Current methods such as high-temperature storage and low-temperature liquid hydrogen are associated with safety concerns and high costs. The Penn State research team, led by Associate Professor Shimin Liu, sought to address this challenge by leveraging coal’s inherent ability to store gases, such as methane.
Validating the Concept
The research team analyzed eight different types of coal from across the United States and found that all of them could effectively store hydrogen. Notably, low-volatile bituminous coal from Virginia and anthracite coal from Pennsylvania exhibited the highest success rates, indicating that coal’s gas storage capabilities are influenced by its composition. Contrary to popular belief, coal is not merely a rock but a polymer rich in carbon with numerous small pores that can efficiently store gas. The researchers likened coal to a sponge that can hold a significant number of hydrogen molecules compared to other non-carbon materials.
Coal as a Hydrogen-Based “Battery”
Looking ahead, the Penn State team envisions developing coal into a hydrogen-based “battery.” This innovation would enable the rapid input and output of different types of hydrogen, making it a versatile energy storage solution. By capitalizing on coal’s gas storage properties and transforming coal communities impacted by the shift towards cleaner energy sources, this research holds the potential to revitalize these communities. The specialized knowledge and skills of the coal industry workforce could be repurposed to manage and operate the proposed coal-hydrogen batteries, offering economic relief while contributing to a greener energy future.
The proposal of coal as a hydrogen storage solution marks a groundbreaking development in energy innovation. Penn State researchers have demonstrated the ability of various types of coal to efficiently store hydrogen, offering a potential solution to the challenges of hydrogen transportation. With further development, coal has the potential to become a hydrogen-based “battery,” enabling rapid and versatile energy storage. Additionally, this research could serve as an opportunity to reinvigorate coal communities by repurposing their expertise in managing and operating the coal-hydrogen batteries. The unexpected potential of coal in the realm of clean energy highlights the importance of ongoing research and innovation in shaping a sustainable future.