Electrospinning of porous composite materials for hydrogen storage application
Due to the rapid depletion of fossil fuel reserves and the production of environmentally harmful by-products such as carbon dioxide, there is an urgent need for alternate sustainable clean energy. One of the leading candidates in this endeavour is hydrogen, which can be used as an energy carrier since it has a high energy density, zero emissions and is produced from non-depletable resources such as water. The major challenge hindering a hydrogen economy is the lack of safe and effective storage technologies for mobile applications. A prospective solution to this problem lies in the use of porous powdered materials, which adsorb the hydrogen gas. However, the integration of these powdered materials into a storage tank system, results in the pipelines being contaminated during filling cycles. This necessitates the shaping of the porous powdered materials. Among the many shaping techniques available, the electrospinning technique has been proposed as a promising technology since it is a versatile process that is easily scaled-up making it attractive for the applications of the study. Furthermore, the electrospinning process enables the synthesis of nano-sized fibres with attractive hydrogen sorption characteristics. In this regard, the current study employs the electrospinning technique to synthesise electrospun composite fibres for mobile hydrogen storage applications. After electrospinning three polymers, polyacrylonitrile (PAN) was selected as the most suitable polymer because it yielded bead-free electrospun fibres. However, the diameter of the PAN fibres was large/thick which prompted further optimisation of the electrospinning parameters. The optimised electrospinning conditions that yield unbeaded fibres within the desired diameter range (of 300-500 nm) were a PAN concentration of 10 wt%, a flow rate of 0.4 mL/h, a distance of 10 cm between the needle tip and collector plate, and an applied voltage of 8 kV. The study then progressed to the synthesis and characterisation of the pristine porous powdered materials which adsorb hydrogen gas. The porous powdered materials investigated were commercial zeolite 13X, its synthesised templated carbon derivative (ZTC) and Zr (UiO-66) and Cr (MIL-101) based metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). ZTC was synthesised via liquid impregnation coupled with chemical vapour deposition (CVD), and the MOFs were synthesised by the modulated solvothermal method. Analysis of the ZTCs morphology and phase crystallinity show that the carbon templated process using zeolites was successful, however, ZTC was amorphous compared to crystalline zeolite template. The BET surface area was assessed with the aid of nitrogen sorption isotherms for both zeolite 13X and ZTC, and values of 730 and 2717 m²/g, respectively were obtained. The hydrogen adsorption capacity for zeolite 13X was 1.6 wt% and increased to 2.4 wt% in the ZTC material at 77 K and 1 bar. The successful synthesis of well defined, crystalline MOFs was evident from X-ray diffraction and morphological analysis. The BET surface area and hydrogen adsorption for Zr MOF were 1186 m²/g and 1.5 wt%, respectively at 77 K and 1 bar. Cr MOF had a BET surface area of 2618 m²/g and hydrogen adsorption capacity of 1.9 wt% at 77 K and 1 bar. The main focus of the study was to synthesise electrospun composite fibres that can adsorb hydrogen gas and thus provide significant insight in this field of research. As such it examined composite fibres that incorporates porous powdered materials such as zeolite 13X, ZTCs, UiO-66 (Zr) MOF and MIL-101 (Cr) MOF and investigated their ability to adsorb hydrogen gas, which have not been reported previously. The synthesis of composite fibres was achieved by incorporating the porous powdered materials into the PAN resulting in a polymeric blend that was then electrospun. Morphological analysis illustrated that the porous powdered materials were successfully supported by or incorporated within the PAN fibres, forming composite fibres. The BET surface area of the 40 wt% zeolite-PAN and 12.5 wt% ZTC-PAN composite fibres were 440 and 1787 m²/g respectively. Zr MOF and Cr MOF composite fibres had a BET surface area of 815 and 1134 m²/g, respectively. The BET surface area had reduced by 40, 34, 31 and 57% for zeolite 13X, ZTC, Zr MOF and Cr MOF, respectively after these porous powdered materials were incorporated into PAN. The hydrogen adoption capacity for 40 wt% zeolite-PAN, 12.5 wt% ZTC-PAN, 20 wt% Zr MOFPAN and 20 wt% Cr MOF-PAN composite fibres was 0.8, 1.8, 0.9 and 1.1 wt%, respectively. This decrease was attributed to the limited amount of porous powdered materials that could be incorporated into the fibres since only 40 wt% of zeolite 13X, 12.5 wt% of ZTC and 20 wt% of the MOFs were loaded into their respective composite fibres. This was due to the fact that incorporation of greater amounts of porous powdered materials resulted in a viscous polymeric blend that was unable to be electrospun. It is evident from the study that electrospinning is a versatile process that is able to produce composite fibres with promising properties that can potentially advance the research in this field thus providing a practical solution to the problem of integrating loose powdered materials into an on-board hydrogen storage system.