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RPI Doctoral Student Develops New Graphene Material with 14% Wt. Hydrogen Storage Capacity

Javad Rafiee, a doctoral student in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has developed a new graphene material for storing hydrogen at room temperature. The novel form of engineered graphene has exhibited a hydrogen storage capacity of 14% by weight at room temperature, exceeding the capacity of current materials. DOE has set a gravimetric storage target for vehicular on-board hydrogen storage (for the entire system, not just the material) of 6% wt. by 2010 and 9% wt. by 2015.

For this innovation, Rafiee is the winner of the 2010 $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student Prize, and is among the four 2010 $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Collegiate Student Prize winners this year. Rafiee is the fourth recipient of the Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student Prize. The prize, first given in 2007, is awarded annually to a Rensselaer senior or graduate student who has created or improved a product or process, applied a technology in a new way, redesigned a system, or demonstrated remarkable inventiveness in other ways.

With adviser and Rensselaer Professor Nikhil Koratkar, Rafiee used a combination of mechanical grinding, plasma treatment, and annealing to engineer the atomic structure of graphene to maximize its hydrogen storage capacity. Rafiee’s graphene exhibits three critical attributes that result in its unique hydrogen storage capacity:

  • High surface area. Graphene’s unique structure, only one atom thick, means that each of its carbon atoms is exposed to the environment and, in turn, to the hydrogen gas.
  • Low density. Graphene has one of the highest surface area-per-unit masses in nature, far superior to even carbon nanotubes and fullerenes.
  • Favorable surface chemistry. After oxidizing graphite powder and mechanically grinding the resulting graphite oxide, Rafiee synthesized the graphene by thermal shock followed by annealing and exposure to argon plasma. These treatments play an important role in increasing the binding energy of hydrogen to the graphene surface at room temperature, as hydrogen tends to cluster and layer around carbon atoms.

Rafiee joined Rensselaer in 2008, following an internship at the City University of Hong Kong and earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical and manufacturing engineering from the University of Tabriz in Iran. At Rensselaer, Rafiee and his brother, Mohammad, joined the research group of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering Professor Nikhil Koratkar.

Rafiee is from Tehran, Iran, and expects to earn his doctorate in 2011. Following graduation, he and his brother plan to start their own business with a focus on clean energy and green manufacturing.

Lemelson-MIT Collegiate Student Prizes. In addition to Rafiee’s pioneering work, the other winners of the annual Lemelson-MIT Collegiate Student Prize are:

  • Lemelson-MIT Student Prize winner Erez Lieberman-Aiden demonstrated creativity and innovation across several disciplines, most recently with his invention of “Hi-C”, a three-dimensional genome sequencing method that will enable an entirely new understanding of cell state, genetic regulation and disease.

  • Lemelson-MIT Caltech Student Prize winner Heather Agnew contributed to the development of an innovative technique that creates inexpensive, stable, highly reliable biochemical compounds that have the potential to replace antibodies used in many standard diagnostic tests.

  • Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student Prize winner Jonathan Naber and the Illini Prosthetics Team developed an affordable, durable, extremely functional prosthetic arm for people in underdeveloped countries, made from recycled materials.

Jerome H. Lemelson, one of the US’s most prolific inventors, and his wife, Dorothy, founded the Lemelson-MIT Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994. It is funded by The Lemelson Foundation and administered by the School of Engineering. To date, The Lemelson Foundation has donated or committed more than US$150 million in support of its mission.



Great, but how do they plan to mass produce this stuff cheaply?

Ole Grampa

Try to relax... this is a great discovery and this young man deserves a LOT of credit. The obstacles to viable hydrogen are being overcome, and it's time for people to stop whining that it will never work.


Could graphene eventually be used to store electrons in small containers?


From what I understand this is an absorbent and not electro chemical. It just holds the H2 and does not transform it. So I would say no, it will not make a battery.


@ John Thompson

You took the words right out of my mouth. Thank you.


"he and his brother plan to start their own business with a focus on clean energy and green manufacturing."

This is one of the things that has made American a great country. Innovators that actually do good things and make a contribution in their lives. I wish them the best in raising capital for their new business.



It seems that it could be used in super-caps to boost energy density by up to (6x), see..


Being able to store hydrogen doesn't make it viable if you can't build the infrastructure for generation and fueling, build fuel cells which are both long-lived and cost-competitive, and (biggest of all) make it at an acceptable energy cost. As Ulf Bossel notes, a hydrogen infrastructure using electricity as its starting point suffers an energy cost disadvantage of 3x to 4x relative to pure EVs.

Graphene caps make EVs more attractive too.

Henry Gibson

The best and cheapest way to store hydrogen now is how nature does it. Nature uses hydrocarbons. Just recycle the CO2. ..HG..

Roger Pham

It is this 14% H2-graphene system that will make H2 economy more viable.

This system can carry H2 at 14% the weight of the container. Since H2 has 3x the energy per unit weight in comparison to petroleum, multiplying the 14% x 3= 42%. This means that this graphene system can carry an equivalent of 42% of petroleum by weight.

Conventional steel tank can carry 80% petroleum by weight, so, petroleum in steel tank can carry twice the amount of energy per unit weight.

However, H2 can be utilized in FCV's at twice the efficiency as petroleum. So, overall, each tanker truck carrying H2 using this graphene system has the same effective energy content as the same tanker transporting petroleum.

High-capacity adsorptive H2 storage system requires much less pressures as compared to conventional compressed H2, resulting in less expensive hardwares and making H2 more competitive with other types of liquid fuels.

H2 can be produced from waste biomass regionally that will require much less transportational distances as compared to petroleum that must be imported for thousands and even ten thousand miles abroad.


True, but irrelevant. The problem with hydrogen isn't just the vehicular storage, it's also the production, transmission and end-use. Production from biomass faces the same problem as replacing petroleum with cellulosic fuels: not enough Net Primary Productivity to even get close, at least in the USA and Europe. Then you've got a trillion-dollar bill for a transmission and distribution system, etc.

The ultimate energy source will wind up being nuclear, wind or solar (because it's what there is). Absent some massive advance in photochemistry (and that transmission and distribution system), hydrogen will run a distant third (behind electricity and conventional biofuels) as the preferred energy form.


We could make hydrogen at the fueling station reforming methane. If that methane comes from biomass and you sequester the CO2 you are CO2 negative.


Not only is that concept starting with an inadequate supply of energy and piling on lossy conversions (biomass to methane, methane to hydrogen) it would require a CO2 pipeline network equivalent to the hydrogen pipelines not required due to use of methane.



Using electricity directly is so much simpler and more efficient. E-Storage units are still a challenge but it will be solved within one or two decades. Meanwhile, PHEVs with very small low cost flex fuel gensets and 8 to 12 Kwh modular batteries could satisfy most requirements, specially for smaller lighter vehicles.

As batteries performance increase from 200 Wh/Kg towards 1000+ Wh/Kg and cost comes down, PHEVs size, performance and e-range could be increased.

Electrified vehicles will evolve progressively an will meet most requirements sometimes between 2020 and 2030.


EP has spoken, everyone else can stop thinking now.

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