Structural and kinetic studies of metal hydride hydrogen storage materials using thin film deposition and characterization techniques
Hydrogen makes an attractive energy carrier for many reasons. It is an abundant chemical fuel that can be produced from a wide variety of sources and stored for very long periods of time. When used in a fuel cell, hydrogen emits only water at the point of use, making it very attractive for mobile applications such as in an automobile. Metal hydrides are promising candidates for on-board reversible hydrogen storage in mobile applications due to their very high volumetric storage capacities—in most cases exceeding even that of liquid hydrogen. The United States Department of Energy (DOE) has set fuel system targets for an automotive hydrogen storage system, but as of yet no single material meets all the requirements. In particular, slow reaction kinetics and/or inappropriate thermodynamics plague many metal hydride hydrogen storage materials. In order to engineer a practical material that meets the DOE targets, we need a detailed understanding of the kinetic and thermodynamic properties of these materials during the phase change.
In this work I employed sputter deposited thin films as a platform to study materials with highly controlled chemistry, microstructure and catalyst placement using thin film characterization techniques such as in situ x-ray diffraction (XRD) and neutron reflectivity.
I observed kinetic limitations in the destabilized Mg2Si system due to the slow diffusion of the host Mg and Si atoms while forming separate MgH2 and Si phases. Conversely, I observed that the presence of Al in the Mg/Al system inhibits hydrogen diffusion while the host Mg and Al atoms interdiffuse readily, allowing the material to fall into a kinetic and/or thermodynamic trap by forming intermetallic compounds such as Mg17Al 12.
By using in situ XRD to analyze epitaxial Mg films grown on (001) oriented Al2O3 substrates I observed hydride growth consistent with a model of a planar hydride layer growing into an existing metal layer. Subsequent film cycling changes the hydrogen absorption and desorption kinetics and degrades the material texture. Cycling the films to greater hydrogen loading accelerates the changes to the kinetics and material texture. In addition to in situ XRD experiments, in situ neutron reflectivity experiments on epitaxial Mg films exposed to hydrogen gas reveal details about the microstructural development of the growing hydride layer as the film absorbs and releases hydrogen.
Small (10 wt%) additions of Ti to epitaxial Mg films during growth result in metastable solid solution films of Ti in Mg that deposit epitaxially on (001) Al2O3 substrates with epitaxy similar to the pure Mg films. These metastable alloy films absorb hydrogen faster than pure Mg films under identical conditions. Subsequent film cycling results in altered reaction kinetics and a transition to a different kinetic mechanism during desorption than for pure Mg films.