Meth­ane Stor­age Leaps Ahead With New Com­pound

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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.

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