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Ammonia Borane Could Power Fuel Cell Vehicles

Ammonia borane is a stable solid at room temperature and consists of almost 20 per cent by weight of hydrogen.

Published: 24-Aug-2011

Hydrogen-rich ammonia borane could be a step closer to becoming a practical source of hydrogen for fuel cells following the development of a new ruthenium-based catalyst by chemists in the US. The catalyst can dehydrogenate ammonia borane at mild temperatures, producing the largest quantity of hydrogen by any dehydrogenating catalyst to date. The catalyst is stable in air and can be re-used for multiple cycles.

Ammonia borane (AB), H3NBH3, is a stable solid at room temperature and consists of almost 20 per cent by weight of hydrogen. Extracting the hydrogen for use in fuel cells is, however, difficult. Heating to above 100°C releases hydrogen, but is energetically inefficient. It can be hydrolysed by water, but this produces ammonia, which can poison fuel cells, and a residue with strong B-O bonds which is difficult to regenerate into AB. The dehydrogenation of AB using catalysts has been demonstrated, but these are unstable in air and are not reusable.

Now, Brian Conley, Denver Guess and Travis Williams of the University of Southern California have developed a stable and reusable ruthenium catalyst that can extract a record amount of hydrogen from AB but produces far fewer by-products poisonous to fuel cells.

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