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Hydrogen, the second-tiniest of all atoms, can penetrate right into the crystal structure of a solid metal.
That's good news for efforts to store hydrogen fuel safely within the metal itself, but it's bad news for structures such as the pressure vessels in nuclear plants, where hydrogen uptake eventually makes the vessel's metal walls more brittle, which can lead to failure. But this embrittlement process is difficult to observe because hydrogen atoms diffuse very fast, even inside the solid metal.
Researchers - MIT - Way - Problem - Technique
Now, researchers at MIT have figured out a way around that problem, creating a new technique that allows the observation of a metal surface during hydrogen penetration. Their findings are described in a paper appearing today in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, by MIT postdoc Jinwoo Kim and Thomas B. King Assistant Professor of Metallurgy C. Cem Tasan.
"It's definitely a cool tool," says Chris San Marchi, a distinguished member of the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories, who was not involved in this work. "This new imaging platform has the potential to address some interesting questions about hydrogen transport and trapping in materials, and potentially about the role of crystallography and microstructural constituents on the embrittlement process."
Hydrogen - Fuel - Tool - Climate - Change
Hydrogen fuel is considered a potentially major tool for limiting global climate change because it is a high-energy fuel that could eventually be used in cars and planes. However, expensive and heavy high-pressure tanks are needed to contain it. Storing the fuel in the crystal lattice of the metal itself could be cheaper, lighter, and safer—but first the process of how hydrogen enters and leaves the metal must be better understood.
"Hydrogen can diffuse at relatively high rates in the metal, because it's so small," Tasan says. "If you take a metal and put it in a hydrogen-rich environment, it will uptake the hydrogen, and this...
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