Composite materials for hazard mitigation of reactive metal hydrides


In an attempt to mitigate and/or manage hazards associated with storing bulk quantities of reactive metal hydrides, polymer composite materials (a mixture of a mitigating polymer and a metal hydride) were synthesized and tested under simulated usage and accident conditions. Mitigating the hazards associated with reactive metal hydrides during an accident while finding a way to keep the original capability of the active material intact during normal use has been the focus of this work.
These composites were made by polymerizing vinyl monomers using free-radical polymerization chemistry, in the presence of the metal hydride, in this case a prepared sodium alanate (chosen as a representative reactive metal hydride). It was found that the polymerization of styrene and divinyl benzene could be initiated using AIBN in toluene at 70 °C. The resulting composite materials can be either hard or brittle solids depending on the cross-linking density. Thermal decomposition of these styrene-based composite materials is lower than neat polystyrene indicating that the chemical nature of the polymer is affected by the formation of the composite. The char-forming nature of cross-linked polystyrene is low and therefore, not an ideal polymer for hazard mitigation.


To obtain composite materials containing a polymer with higher char-forming potential, siloxane-based monomers were investigated. Four vinyl-containing siloxane oligomers were polymerized with and without added styrene and divinyl benzene. Like the styrene materials, these composite materials exhibited thermal decomposition behavior significantly different than the neat polymers. Specifically, the thermal decomposition temperature was shifted approximately 100 °C lower than the neat polymer signifying a major chemical change to the polymer network. Thermal analysis of the cycled samples was performed on the siloxane-based composite materials. It was found that after 30 cycles the siloxane-containing polymer composite material has similar TGA/DSC-MS traces as the virgin composite material indicating that the polymer is physically intact upon cycling.


Hydrogen capacity measurements revealed that addition of the polymer to the metal hydride in the form of a composite material reduced the inherent hydrogen storage capacity of the material. This reduction in capacity was observed to be independent of the amount of charge/discharge cycles except for the composites containing siloxane, which showed less of an impact on hydrogen storage capacity as it was cycled further. While the reason for this is not clear, it may be due to a chemically stabilizing effect of the siloxane on the metal hydride.

Flow-through calorimetry was used to characterize the mitigating effectiveness of the different composites relative to the neat (no polymer) material. The composites were found to be initially effective at reducing the amount of heat released during oxidation, and the best performing material was the siloxane-containing composite which reduced the heat release to less than 50% of the value of the neat material. However, upon cycling the composites, all mitigating behavior was lost.
The combined results of the flow-through calorimetry, hydrogen capacity, and thermogravimetric analysis tests lead to the proposed conclusion that while the polymer composites have mitigating potential and are physically robust under cycling, they undergo a chemical change upon cycling that makes them ineffective at mitigating heat release upon oxidation of the metal hydride.



  • Polymer/metal-hydride composites were successfully synthesized.
  • The composites started thermal decomposition at lower temperatures than their polymer constituent, but did form a char.
  • The addition of the mitigating polymer to the metal hydride decreases the hydrogen capacity more than expected and is postulated to be due to mechanical blocking of sorption sites.
  • As-produced, the composites were found to mitigate well, reducing heat release to between 49% and 75% of its original amount.
  • Cycling under realistic operating conditions revealed that more work must be done to prevent the polymer matrix from degrading.
  • It is suggested that the polymer composite approach to hazard mitigation has merit, and that future work which strives to
    understand the interaction between the polymer and active material during synthesis as well as cycling may enable better engineering of the polymers to avoid destruction of it mitigating property upon use.

Authors: Joseph W. Pratt, Joseph G. Cordaro, George B. Sartor, Craig L. Reeder, and Daniel E. Dedrick from Sandia National Laboratories, Livermore, CA USA

Article published in International Journal of Hydrogen Energy 38(1):290–304 · January 2013

Composite materials for hazard mitigation of reactive metal hydrides (pdf)