13th International Symposium on Metal-Hydrogen Systems 21st – 26th October 2012 in Kyoto, Japan

I am a third year PhD student at the School of Metallurgy and Materials in the University of Birmingham.  My research is investigating novel Ti-V based metal hydrides for use within hydrogen storage tanks for fuel cell vehicles.  These types of hydrogen storage alloys have been shown to have uses in a wide range of transportation applications; from passenger road vehicles to fleets of public busses and even canal boats.

Last month, due to the financial support gratefully awarded to me by the Simon Wolff Charitable Foundation, I was able to attend the 13th International Symposium on Metal-Hydrogen Systems on 21st – 26th October in Kyoto, Japan.  The Metal-Hydrogen Systems symposium has been a biennial event since the 1970’s and is the most prestigious and longest running conference on how metals interact with hydrogen.  The conference allows researchers from both industrial and academic backgrounds to come together to share and discuss their findings on a variety of subject areas associated with metal-hydrogen interactions, including materials for hydrogen storage and their applications, amongst others.  

Kyoto is situated in the southern-central region of Kansai and is the former imperial capital of Japan.  To this day it is still widely considered to be the cultural heart of Japan, featuring over 2000 temples and shrines.  

Kyoto is also the city where, in 1997, a legally binding agreement was drawn up between countries to meet emissions reduction targets of all greenhouse gases by 2012 relative to 1990 levels.  This makes it a fitting location for a conference centred around carbon-neutral technologies.

The first planetary lecture was given by Professor Etsuo Akiba who explained that the Japanese earthquake on March 2011, which tragically took the lives of around 16,000 people and caused the release of radioactive material from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, has led to an increase of awareness into carbon-neutral technologies in Japan.   This has not only resulted in an increase in scientific activity into such technologies but also a review of Energy Policy to establish a society that does not depend on nuclear energy and help restore public confidence in scientists and engineers.

After the introductory planetary lectures, for the remainder of the conference there were three parallel sessions of talks.  With such an impressive schedule of presentations it was difficult to decide which talks to attend!

Some of the talks which were of interest to me included :

  • “New useful functions of hydrogen in materials” (M. Okada) : This covered a range of applications including magnostrictive stress sensors such as La(FexSi1-x)13 compounds, switchable mirrors and hydrogenation disproportionation desorption recombination (HDDR) functions for microstructural control.
  •  “Application-specific targets and engineering considerations to guide hydrogen storage materials development” (N. Stetson) : Highlighted the importance of taking into account both the material and system for specific requirements, not just the DOE targets as a whole (system gravimetric density of 9 wt% and volumetric density of 81 g/L by 2015).
  • “Physical potentials and limitations of hydrogen storage” (A. Zuttel) : Wealth = Energy + Materials.  Mobility accounts for 36% of consumption per capita (in UK) and is increasing annually. To put things into perspective, 1 L oil = 2.7 kg wood = 1 kg coal = 1 m2 biomass = 0.1 m2 PV (solar) cells, but the problem is still storage.
  •  “Faster activation and hydrogenation/dehydrogenation in transition metals” (D. Fruchart) : AB2 Ti-V-Cr alloys are good catalysts for Mg and their alloys.  BCC alloys undergo two phase transformations BCC-FCC and hydrogen occupies tetrahedral sites in both structures.
  • “Structural and hydrogenation properties of hydrogen storage alloys for on board storage” (Y. Nakamura) : Fuel cell vehicles using hydrogen storage tanks will be launched in 2015.  The properties of metal hydrides can be easily changed by combination/substitution of elements, the key factors control properties are; atomic size, hole size, cell volume, order/disorder and lattice defects.  Controlling atomic arrangements and sites is therefore key.
  • Development of hybrid hydrogen tank for fuel cell vehicles (S. Tsunokake) : Japan Metals & Chemicals Co, Ltd.  First fuel cells vehicles launched were 1997, Mazda, and 1999, Honda.  Hybrid hydrogen tanks increase gravimetric density but in doing so decrease the volumetric density.

During the conference, I was invited to take part in the poster presentation session.  This provided me with the opportunity to present my work to fellow students and academics.  

Lydia Pickering standing by her poster, poised ready to answer any questions.Lydia Pickering standing by her poster, poised ready to answer any questions.

Much of the work I have carried out has been centred on work previously carried out by several Japanese groups back in early 1990’s.  It was therefore great to actually meet some of the researchers who first investigated these Ti-V systems and hear their feedback on my work.

As well as providing me with a greater understanding of these materials, speaking to internationally renowned experts in this area also developed my confidence in presenting my work, which I am sure will prove invaluable now I am entering the final stages of my PhD.  

After the conference I stayed in Japan for a few extra days to do a bit of exploring and try to immerse myself in the culture.  My brief travels saw me visiting Hiroshima, Osaka and Tokyo which were all fantastic cities to experience.  Highlights of my travelling included; the thought provoking A-bomb memorial site in Hiroshima - a shocking reminder of the incomprehensible damage the city suffered when it was subject to such a brutal attack at the end of World War II, wondering around the beautiful Osaka castle and its’ surrounding grounds, spotting some sumo wrestlers casually wondering around the streets the night before a big competition, eating in arguably one of the best locations for sushi in Japan and the contrast between old and new in the world’s most populated metropolis that is Tokyo.

I would, once again, like to thank the Simon Wolff Charitable Foundation for awarding me a travel grant which enabled me to attend such a prestigious conference and for their continued commitment to supporting young researchers.

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