The structure, called white graphene, consists of layers of boron nitride separated by boron nitride pillars that are exactly 5.2 angstroms tall, or 0.52nm. While this has been identified from simulation, the challenge is to make physical systems with such precise features.
"The motivation is to create an efficient material that can take up and hold a lot of hydrogen -- both by volume and weight -- and that can quickly and easily release that hydrogen when it's needed," said Rouzbeh Shahsavari, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice and director of the Multiscale Materials Lab.
Global demand for hydrogen storage materials and technologies is expected to reach $5.4 billion a year by 2021 according to BCC Research.
The analysis of the material took months of calculations on two of Rice's fastest supercomputers, and Shahsavari and Rice graduate student Shuo Zhao found the optimal architecture for storing hydrogen in boron nitride. One form of the material, hexagonal boron nitride (hBN), consists of atom-thick sheets of boron and nitrogen and is sometimes called white graphene because the atoms are spaced exactly like carbon atoms in flat sheets of graphene.