University of Salford Manchester

The behaviour of hydrogen in materials

Professor Keith Ross, Professor Ian Morrison, Dr Dan Bull, and Dr Richard Pilkington, form the School of Computing, Science & Engineering have developed research on the use of hydrogen in a range of applications, developing the following techniques:

  • Automated and precise measurement of the magnitude and kinetics of gas/vapour absorption in materials at controlled pressure and temperature;
  • Methods for analysing structural changes during cycling of hydrogen storage materials, in particular in situ neutron diffraction;
  • Methods for the regeneration of a palladium catalyst used in the production of hydrogen peroxide;
  • Understanding the behaviour of hydrogen isotopes in palladium in relation to hydrogen isotope separation for fusion applications;
  • A surface coating technique that stops hydrogen permeation through metals;  
  • Exploring the use of hydrogen storage for use with hydrogen/fuel cell cars using isotherm analysis, ab initio simulations and neutron scattering techniques.

Commercial application in the energy, environment and chemical industries

The original Intelligent Gravimetric Analyzer (IGA) is manufactured by HIDEN Isochema, a world leader in the design and manufacture of gas and vapor sorption instrumentation for research, development and production applications in surface chemistry and materials science. The IGA instrumentation suite has achieved a leading position worldwide in this field with a turnover exceeding £3Mpa. Keith and his colleagues’ continuing collaboration with HIDEN Isochema has made a major contribution to the present commercial significance of the technique in a range of sectors:

  • The IGA series is now widely recognised as the most accurate analytical tool available for the characterisation of a range of different hydrogen storage materials and Keith and colleagues have developed three IGA instruments in their lab with different characteristics which have been used to develop new applications. 5 Salford Ph.Ds have also continued their research as scientific developers at HIDEN.
  • Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) removal, coal research, clean energy technology and the interaction of water with natural materials are all examples of the application of sorption instrumentation. Both the IGA and IGAsorp series are used widely in environmental vapor sorption research and in the pharmaceutical industry, while the IGA and IMI series offer higher pressure gas sorption capability for applications that require the determination of the uptake of gases such carbon dioxide and methane at elevated pressures (Carbon Storage and Capture). Research on the absorption of deuterated toluene in carbons and more recently in reactor graphites using contrast matching establishes which pores are open to the liquid and energy researchers using IGA technology include those in the oil and gas industry, and those developing membranes for fuel cell applications.
  • Keith and colleagues used the IGA to measure the diffusion of hydrogen in metals, specifically, in palladium silver alloys foils, where knowledge of the behaviour of hydrogen isotopes is essential for hydrogen isotope separation in fusion applications. 
  • Cycling metal hydrogen systems using IGA led to the development of in situ cycling experiments on neutron diffractometers which has been widely adopted in practice, demonstrating the capacity to change the hydrogen content in situ by changing hydrogen pressures and temperatures. A derivative of the IGA instrument was installed on neutron scattering equipment at ISIS, Rutherford Appleton Laboratories for this purpose.
  • Neutron inelastic scattering from hydrogen compounds adsorbed by catalysts on carbon substrates has proved a powerful way of identifying molecules on surfaces in low concentrations, demonstrating applications in a range of industrial processes in collaboration with Dr Peter Albers, of Degussa AQura. This work on the development of commercial catalyst systems leading to the good carbonaceous catalyst support for fuel cell applications was important. Additionally, the method was deployed in the development of processes for regeneration of the catalyst used in the production of hydrogen peroxide. 
  • The NESSHy (Novel efficient solid storage for Hydrogen) EC Framework project tackled a wide range of possible materials for hydrogen storage. Ian was responsible for ab initio modelling and Keith responsible for characterisation. The project, which included the materials produced being tested by Daimler Chrysler, demonstrated the use of combinatorial thin film technique in the Mg-Ni-Ti system. The research identified a favourable composition for hydrogen storage applications.
  • Small Angle Neutron Scattering studies of porosity in activated carbons for use as hydrogen absorbers led to collaboration with Chemviron Carbon Ltd focused on the use of small angle neutron scattering with contrast matching and variable adsorbate partial pressures in the study of porosity in activated carbons: “The project involved successful industry-academia collaboration with partners Chemviron Carbon, and has led to over £1.1m follow on funding to develop this and related technology.” Joule Centre, September 2010   
  • Keith and his colleagues’ work on hydrogen storage and the development of demonstration equipment for this purpose has led to a considerable amount of outreach activity to schools. Additionally, funding of £30,000 was awarded to work in partnership with the Museum of Science and Industry, local schools and Manchester Science Festival, of which the University is a sponsor, to engage young people, their families and carers with science and making research accessible to all.