Hydrogen Based Polymers for Densified Propellant Storage?

I read an interesting article yesterday on Valterri Maja’s blog (Gravity Loss) about a new class of hydrogen-based materials being researched out at the University of Es sen and a few other locations. Apparently they found a method for lining up the electron spin of the hydrogen atoms in a way that allows the magnetic fields to align and reinforce each other. They think they can make structural materials out of these polymers that would have strength to weight ratios better than carbon. But to me the interesting aspect is if this material could be used for a propellant. One of the biggest drawbacks to hydrogen is it’s storage density and temperature. If they can make a liquid hydrogen polymer that is either denser, or has a higher melting point than normal LH2, it could have serious implications for space transport and orbital propellant depots. Even if they could only make solid hydrogen polymers, having a hybrid rocket that had a 450s vacuum Isp would be impressive.

Anyhow, the papers referenced in Valterri’s article were fascinating. I really would suggest reading the whole thing if you have the time. While it’s important to take such early reports with an appropriate sized grain of salt, I think this could be an interesting avenue of research for NASA to fund. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this research now that it’s been brought to my attention.

[Update: In case you guys didn’t guess, this was an April Fool’s joke. Don’t feel bad if you got snookered, Valterri had me going for about 30min last night. I only realized it was a joke when I saw the date stamp. April Fool’s starts early over there in Europe…darned timezones…]

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Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff

President/CEO at Altius Space Machines
Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
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9 Responses to Hydrogen Based Polymers for Densified Propellant Storage?

  1. Ian Woollard says:

    If that pans out it’s a brand new fuel for the rockets of today, and next year!

  2. Jim Gagnon says:

    Jon, do you have a specific article that got you excited? Maja simply references a google search for “hydrogen polymer”, which leads one to all sorts of esoteric patents and wacky sites like blacklightpower.com and his fractional quantum state hydrino (which NASA spent money on a few years ago). The scientific literature on the hydrino is, shall we say, spotty. The Wikipedia page is a good record of the controversy surrounding the hydrino:

    Regardless, I can’t find anything solid on hydrino hydride, which is what you would want for a rocket fuel.

  3. Doug Jones says:

    Seems mighty unlikely to me- “aligning the magnetic fields” simply means converting the ortho to para, which releases energy (and must be done in a hydrogen liquefier else it will all boil off), but the resulting state is still diatomic molecular hydrogen. Getting true covalent bonds between more than two hydrogen atoms is not likely.

    N5H, Pentazole, apparently has been synthesized, but it detonates with little provocation. Other yummy things include Pentazenium:


    Yee freakin’ hah. Keep that sh*t away from me, thankyouverymuch.

  4. MG says:

    Thanks, but I’ve already got one!

    Good April Fool’s joke, though. Just specific enough to be interesting, and vague enough not to raise warning flags.

  5. Ian Woollard says:

    As I was saying: a rocket fuel for April 1 and the next year’s April 1… and the year after that, and the one after that and…

    Actually, hydrogen is diamagnetic, so it probably repels rather than attracts anyway.

    Looks like I didn’t spoil it for everyone. 😉

  6. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    Yeah, your point was obscure enough that I left it. Someone else tried to spoil the fun and got his comment deleted (Sorry Bill!).


  7. john hare says:

    I didn’t get it because it reminded me of an article on high density solid room temperature hydrogen that I read a long time ago. It was apparently insanely costly to do, on a par with antimatter. I thought maybe someone had moved forward with it.

  8. gravityloss says:

    🙂 yeah I guess there is some semblance to something rea. And a better April fool’s joke would have some funny hidden components that would be obvious on a second reading.

  9. A_M_Swallow says:

    I thought it was a reference to this real story.

    (You may have to login to read)

    Mar 26, 2010
    Graphene oxide framework packs in hydrogen

    Stacked layers of oxidized graphene could be used to store hydrogen fuel for cars and other applications. So say researchers in the US who have made graphene oxide frameworks (GOFs) that can hold roughly 1% of their weight in hydrogen. This value is 100 times better than graphene oxide itself and compares well with MOF-5 (the most studied metal organic framework to date for hydrogen storage), which absorbs about 1.3wt%.

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