Storing enough hydrogen on-board a vehicle to achieve a driving range of greater than 300 miles is a significant challenge. On a weight basis, hydrogen has nearly three times the energy content of gasoline (120 MJ/kg for hydrogen versus 44 MJ/kg for gasoline). However, on a volume basis the situation is reversed (8 MJ/liter for liquid hydrogen versus 32 MJ/liter for gasoline). On-board hydrogen storage in the range of 5–13 kg H2 is required to encompass the full platform of light-duty vehicles.

How is Hydrogen Stored?

Hydrogen can be stored in a variety of ways, but for hydrogen to be a competitive fuel for vehicles, the hydrogen vehicle must be able to travel a comparable distance to conventional hydrocarbon-fueled vehicles.

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Compressed Gas and Cryogenic Liquid Storage

Hydrogen can be physically stored as either a gas or a liquid. Storage as a gas typically requires high-pressure tanks (5000–10,000 psi tank pressure). Storage of hydrogen as a liquid requires cryogenic temperatures because the boiling point of hydrogen at one atmosphere pressure is -252.8°C.

Materials-Based Hydrogen Storage

Hydrogen can also be stored on the surfaces of solids (by adsorption) or within solids (by absorption). In adsorption, hydrogen is attached to the surface of a material either as hydrogen molecules or as hydrogen atoms. In absorption, hydrogen is dissociated into H-atoms, and then the hydrogen atoms are incorporated into the solid lattice framework.

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Hydrogen storage in solids may make it possible to store larger quantities of hydrogen in smaller volumes at low pressure and at temperatures close to room temperature. It is also possible to achieve volumetric storage densities greater than liquid hydrogen because the hydrogen molecule is dissociated into atomic hydrogen within the metal hydride lattice structure.

Finally, hydrogen can be stored through the reaction of hydrogen-containing materials with water (or other compounds such as alcohols). In this case, the hydrogen is effectively stored in both the material and in the water. The term "chemical hydrogen storage" or chemical hydrides is used to describe this form of hydrogen storage. It is also possible to store hydrogen in the chemical structures of liquids and solids.

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