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February 3rd, 2008
Is hydrogen for airheads?
Materials science, an area Korea has earmarked as vital to the nation's economic development, might hold the solution. Professor Ihm Ji-soon of Seoul National University's School of Physics and Astronomy has developed a titanium compound that stores hydrogen as a solid, which by eliminating pressurized tanks, could reduce the cost and safety hazards of hydrogen vehicles.
Nanostructures - materials on the order of one billionth of a meter - exhibit properties that can boost the chemical reactions that result in more efficient hydrogen applications. Every aspect of the hydrogen picture involves a catalyst, whether it is production, storage or end use, says Mildred Dresselhaus, professor of physics and electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Highlighting the growing importance of this research, last August the Fourth U.S.-Korea Forum on Nanotechnology, which addressed sustainable energy, included presentations on hydrogen storage and production.
Fuel cells do not compete with gasoline engines when subjected to market scrutiny. They are getting closer but critics are convinced they will never be practical. A giant leap in technology is needed to make them viable on a scale way beyond the demonstration vehicles that are making the news. Korean materials scientists are betting that their discoveries will make the much-doubted fuel cell a transportation killer app.
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