Hydrogen generation using silicon nanoparticles and their mixtures with alkali metal hydrides
Patki, Gauri Dilip
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Hydrogen is a promising energy carrier, for use in fuel cells, engines, and turbines for transportation or mobile applications. Hydrogen is desirable as an energy carrier, because its oxidation by air releases substantial energy (thermally or electrochemically) and produces only water as a product. In contrast, hydrocarbon energy carriers inevitably produce CO 2contributing to global warming. While CO 2 capture may prove feasible in large stationary applications, implementing it in transportation and mobile applications is a daunting challenge. Thus a zero-emission energy carrier like hydrogen is especially needed in these cases. Use of H 2 as an energy carrier also brings new challenges such as safe handling of compressed hydrogen and implementation of new transport, storage, and delivery processes and infrastructure. With current storage technologies, hydrogen's energy per volume is very low compared to other automobile fuels. High density storage of compressed hydrogen requires combinations of high pressure and/or low temperature that are not very practical. An alternative for storage is use of solid light weight hydrogenous material systems which have long durability, good adsorption properties and high activity. Substantial research has been conducted on carbon materials like activated carbon, carbon nanofibers, and carbon nanotubes due to their high theoretical hydrogen capacities. However, the theoretical values have not been achieved, and hydrogen uptake capacities in these materials are below 10 wt. %. In this thesis we investigated the use of silicon for hydrogen generation. Hydrogen generation via water oxidation of silicon had been ignored due to slow reaction kinetics. We hypothesized that the hydrogen generation rate could be improved by using high surface area silicon nanoparticles. Our laser-pyrolysis-produced nanoparticles showed surprisingly rapid hydrogen generation and high hydrogen yield, exceeding the theoretical maximum of two moles of H2 per mole of Si. We compare our silicon nanoparticles (∼10nm diameter) with commercial silicon nanopowder (<100nm diameter) and ball-milled silicon powder (325 mesh). The increase in rate upon decreasing the particle size to 10 nm was even greater than would be expected based upon the increase in surface area. While specific surface area increased by a factor of 6 in going from <100 nm to ∼10 nm particles, the hydrogen production rate increased by a factor of 150. However, in all cases, silicon requires a base (e.g. NaOH, KOH, hydrazine) to catalyze its reaction with water. Metal hydrides are also promising hydrogen storage materials. The optimum metal hydride would possess high hydrogen storage density at moderate temperature and pressure, release hydrogen safely and controllably, and be stable in air. Alkali metal hydrides have high hydrogen storage density, but exhibit high uncontrollable reactivity with water. In an attempt to control this explosive nature while maintaining high storage capacity, we mixed our silicon nanoparticles with the hydrides. This has dual benefits: (1) the hydride- water reaction produces the alkali hydroxide needed for base-catalyzed silicon oxidation, and (2) dilution with 10nm coating by, the silicon may temper the reactivity of the hydride, making the process more controllable. Initially, we analyzed hydrolysis of pure alkali metal hydrides and alkaline earth metal hydrides. Lithium hydride has particularly high hydrogen gravimetric density, along with faster reaction kinetics than sodium hydride or magnesium hydride. On analysis of hydrogen production we found higher hydrogen yield from the silicon nanoparticle—metal hydride mixture than from pure hydride hydrolysis. The silicon-hydride mixtures using our 10nm silicon nanoparticles produced high hydrogen yield, exceeding the theoretical yield. Some evidence of slowing of the hydride reaction rate upon addition of silicon nanoparticles was observed.