The substitution of hydrogen fuel cells for hydrocarbon fuels or their vegetable-oil based substitutes, promises a cleaner environment with greater ecological gains. However, development and implementation is being held back by the problem of storing the dangerous gas safely and efficiently. One ingenious solution is to store the gas in a 'sponge' of carbonized keratin - the protein that forms skin, hair and ......bird feathers.
A team at University of Delaware have discovered that the protein keratin, (in the form of chicken feathers) developed interesting properties when it's heated. What happens is that the keratin creates very strong cross-links when it's carbonized, and the feather fibres become super-porous, dramatically increasing their total surface area. As a result, the carbonized feathers can absorb huge amounts of hydrogen into their structure.
Development to date suggests that carbonized feather technology could easily create a 65-gallon hydrogen tank, which would power a family car over 300 miles - capacity that may increase yet further as the technology develops.