Methane Storage Leaps Ahead With New Compound
A new metal-organic framework may be able to pack more methane onboard a vehicle than ever before, without the need for expensive tanks and compressors. That could be a game-changer for the natural-gas-powered vehicle industry. Vehicles which use methane, the major component in what is referred to more commonly as natural gas, produce a great deal less CO2 than conventional gasoline and diesel alternatives. The difficulty in making economical methane-powered vehicles for the masses lies in the need to carry the gas at 250 atmospheres of pressure. That means expensive tanks which are well-protected in the event of collision or other damage, and which are strong enough to contain the pressure. It also requires expensive and often bulky compressors. A new technology, disclosed in a paper published with the American Chemical Society, could change all that. It was developed by a team led by David Fairen-jimenez of the University of Cambridge. That new technology, which falls under the class of metal-organic framework (MOF) compounds, consists of metal-based nodes interconnected with organic struts. In the structure his team has been able to put together using a unique synthesis method, an existing well-known MOF has now demonstrated a capacity to absorb 259 cm3 of methane per cm3. That’s fifty percent more than anything demonstrated like this to date. Further, when this structure was used and pressures in the tank containing it was held to ‘only’ 6 atm, only about two-thirds of the MOF’S methane was released. This means the methane can be delivered to an engine with minimal pressure from a compressor or similar device. While this is still at the research stages, Fairen-Jimenez and his team have been working hard to produce hundreds of grams of the HKUST-1 material, and have demonstrated the capability to do this without the ‘stopping’ steps of the above process, in a continuous-flow process which will be mandatory for the product concept to be readily mass-manufacturable. Fairen-jimenez and his team are optimistic about the future of their invention. They have already formed a spin-off company, Immaterial Labs, based on the tech they’ve created. They also expect to be at kilogram-scale production rates for the material sometime in 2018.