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Review Panel Recommends “No-Go” on Further Funding for Sodium Borohydride for On-Board Vehicular Hydrogen Storage

An independent technical review panel convened at the behest of the Department of Energy to consider the technical status and progress of R&D on the hydrolysis of sodium borohydride (NaBH4) for on-board vehicular hydrogen storage has unanimously recommended a “no-go” to further funding.

Millenium Cell and others have been working on sodium borohydride-based systems for a range of applications, from portable devices to transportation. DaimlerChrysler used Millenium Cell technology it its Natrium fuel cell concept car, introduced in 2001. The Natrium (Latin for sodium, and the origin of the “Na” symbol for the element) was based on a Town and Country minivan, and used a Millenium Cell fuel processor with a Ballard fuel cell, Siemens motor and SAFT Li-ion battery pack. (Earlier post.)

When NaBH4 is suspended in an aqueous solution and then passed over a catalyst, the reaction produces hydrogen, along with a benign byproduct—sodium metaborate—that can be recycled back into sodium borohydride.

NaBH4 + 2H2O 4H2 + NaBO2 + heat

Selected DOE Hydrogen Storage Technical Targets
Storage ParameterUnits20072010
System gravimetric capacity kWh/kg
(kg H2/kg system)
System volumetric capacity kWh/L
(kg H2/L system)
Storage system cost
(and H2 cost)
$/kWh net
($/kg H2)
$/gge at pump

The panel, in its recommendation statement, said that the hydrogen storage technology considered for the hydrolysis of sodium borohydride has clearly not met all the 2007 targets. In addition, the panel saw no promising path forward for this technology to reach all the 2010 targets.

The panel reviewed materials from Argonne National Laboratory, Millenium Cell, NREL, Penn State University, Rohm and Haas, TIAX, MERIT (Material & Energy Research Institute Tokyo), the DOE Chemical Hydrogen Storage Center of Excellence, and others.

Some of the status reports provided to the panel indicated system numbers that in some cases met the 2007 targets. In particular, Millenium Cell reported on the hydrolysis of an aqueous 30% (this was not in use in the Natrium) solution of NaBH4, containing 3% sodium hydroxide (NaOH) as a stabilizer. The hydrolysis is promoted by a proprietary catalyst.

However, the panel found a number of points of concern over the practicality of the system including the unproven single-tank bladder system; the requirement for large amounts of water on board the vehicle; and issues dealing with the precipitation of the sodium borate (NaBO2) product.

Millennium Cell essentially concluded that the solution-based NaBH4 approach was not likely to achieve 2010 capacity targets. Millennium Cell also felt that the problem of accumulating a solid product was a significant engineering issue that had not been addressed adequately, and that no practical engineering solution has been proposed. Finally, Millennium Cell pointed out that the hydrogen cost remains above the target with this system.

The panel also found the high energy penalty and cost of regenerating sodium borate back to NaBH4 fuel to be of significant concern, again concluding that the 2010 hydrogen cost target did not appear within reach.

In its document, however, the review panel was careful to note that improvements in NaBH4 production have application to the cost-effective production of amine boranes, for the alternative borane-based on-board storage system, which is a major area of research under the DOE Chemical Hydrogen Storage Center of Excellence.

Therefore, the Panel is recommending that some continued research activities related to the cost-effective production of amine boranes may be appropriate. This does not contradict the Panel’s no-go recommendation for on-board sodium borohydride; the recommended future work relates to addressing the viability of chemical hydrogen storage approaches as an alternative to sodium borohydride.




Lol, Cowan's not gonna like this.


There is an ironic twist here. DOE pumps gobs of money into hydrogen research; when a prototype technology is actually developed DOE shuts it down, basically nullify the efforts.

Basic research in lithium battery chemistry should yield better returns compared to hydrogen research.

GRLC, former H2 fan
Cowan's not gonna like this.

Actually I do. I believe in a hydrogen economy provided the hydrogen doesn't actually contain any hydrogen. NaBH4(aq) fails that test.

It may be possible to find previous comments by me on the NaBH4 scheme. They include "NaBO2", the formula for the ash.


This is probably good news. R&D funds are limited and it is better to spend on schemes that seem promising.

The DOE has not yet followed the recommendation and may not. Or the panel may be mistaken. Technically I can't comment on the merits of sodium borohydride but I am glad to see serious reviews of any program.


Think of this as travelling along an unsignposted but dead end street before finding out. I'm sure there'll be plenty more. Trouble is we need a big idea that works immediately.


This is both good and bad news. It is good that DOE is showing that they are actually considering where their money is best spent. However, this dead end is just evidence that the DOE needs to focus on implementing/improving existing technology, rather than waiting on R&D teams to come up with revolutionary technology (hydrogen).


This is just showing how much progress has been made is jydrogen tech.

Back when they started this theu thought they would need 12-16 even 26 kilos of hydrogen to power a car and so had to think of very odd ways to store it.

Now we cant be sure but it looks like honda needs maybe 3 kilos and big 3 need 4...

Its very likely the goal is now a single 2-3 kilo tank and that changes everything.

GRLC, former H2 fan
the goal is now a single 2-3 kilo tank and that changes everything.

The GM Hy-Wire had tanks that when full contained
2 kg of hydrogen. They weighed 75 kg empty.

Is the size of recent Honda fuel cell vehicle hydrogen tanks unpublished? That tells a story in itself.


Have to keep up with the tech.. the last us h2 tank I had numbers for was the ford and that was 41 kilos emplt for 2 kilo capacity each and used 2 such tanks. And the honda tank is a gen ahead of that. And its still smaller and lighter then the size battery needed to replace the power in 2 kilos of h2 even with todays not ready for marlet fuel cells.


Well NaBH4 had the advantage of not needing a large and expensive composite fuel tank, nor did NaBH4 have any high pressure flammability hazard, oh well it's dead.



True the compressed hydrogen maybe lighter (though maybe not smaller) then a battery, it would still require up to 4 times as much energy to power a hydrogen car over an EV, and in the energy starved future, price for fuel (be it hydrogen or electricity) might be the most important factor in car design. Also batteries and charging stations are cheaper then fuel cells, composite tanks and a hydrogen infrastructure.


Dont be so sure;/

The current bat packs are rather huge and heavy and take up room where you realt dont want em too. The fuel cell itself can go directly in the engine bay and the tank still leaves rom for a trunk.

As for 4x energy... no. Even current tech can allow h2 prodiction at 85% eff and while yes current gen fuel cells are only about 50 they arnt the ones that will go into mass prodiction.

The fact is the oil companies and the car companies dont need h2 cars yet so they have plenty of time to improve the bottom line on all aspects of it. And even 10 years after h2 cars hit mass volume.. the bev and h2 markets will be totaly different ends if the car and fuel markets. H2 will take the high perf sports/touring lux car lux suv suv and worktruck markets and bevs will in time take the econoboc commute towncar taxis and of course the short hoal truck markets.

BUT as the h2 markets are full of car mavens and thus MOOLA MOOLA MOOLA the h2 side of things will be a far bigger market money wise.


It was wise of the DOE to stop funding Millenium Cell. All the same - abolish the DOE!

However, I do not think that this is the end of solid based borohydride hydrogen/hydrolysis systems due to the fact that the complete oxidation of light metal borohydrides offer the ONLY possible solution for storing hydrogen with energy densities comparable or better than gasoline.

Prediction: In the future, hydrogen, powering automotive fuel cells, will be carried by the fifth and eleventh elements.

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