Hydrogen has long been touted as a clean and ample energy alternative to fossil fuels however one drawback is hydrogen is hard to store and transport. As a pressurized gas, it takes up roughly 40 times as much space as gasoline, and as a liquid it needs to be kept at extremely low temperatures. "Using currently available technology, if you had a 20-gallon tank and filled it with hydrogen at typical room temperature and pressure, you could drive about a mile," says researcher Richard Wool, director of the Affordable Composites from Renewable Resources program at the University of Delaware.
Now LiveScience reports that superheated chicken feather fibers could hold vast amounts of hydrogen and Wool estimates that when using carbonized chicken feather fibers to store hydrogen, it would take a 75-gallon tank to go 300 miles in a car. Chicken feather fibers are mostly composed of keratin, the the hard but un-mineralized structures found in nails, scales, claws and beaks.
When carefully heated for precise times to specific temperatures, the carbon-rich surfaces that result on the fibers attract hydrogen, somewhat like how activated charcoal filters can pull out impurities from liquids or gases. "It actually costs the poultry industry money to get rid of these feathers, so they're basically for free," adds Wool. "Carbonized chicken feather fibers have the potential to dramatically improve upon existing methods of hydrogen storage and perhaps pave the way for the practical development of a truly hydrogen-based energy economy."
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