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Nanoparticles Could Make Hydrogen Cheaper Than Gasoline 442

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the at-this-rate-gold-will-be-cheaper-soon dept.
Roland Piquepaille writes "According to EE Times, a California-based company called QuantumSphere has developed nanoparticles that could make hydrogen cheaper than gasoline. The company says its reactive catalytic nanoparticle coatings can boost the efficiency of electrolysis (the technique that generates hydrogen from water) to 85% today, exceeding the Department of Energy's goal for 2010 by 10%. The company says its process could be improved to reach an efficiency of 96% in a few years. The most interesting part of the story is that the existing gas stations would not need to be modified to distribute hydrogen. With these nanoparticle coatings, car owners could make their own hydrogen, either in their garage or even when driving."
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Nanoparticles Could Make Hydrogen Cheaper Than Gasoline

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  • Need those (Score:3, Funny)

    by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:38PM (#22578206) Homepage Journal
    What do you think the odds are on getting some of this stuff for my hydrogen car [amazon.com] kit?
  • by Harik (4023) <Harik@chaos.ao.net> on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:39PM (#22578222)
    *cough*bullshit*cough*

    What's with all the science articles lately that are basically investor scams?
    • by bikerider7 (1085357) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:42PM (#22578270)

      What's with all the science articles lately that are basically investor scams?
      This is a press release, not a science article. The EE Times last year fired most of its reporters, and now just regurgitates company press releases.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Botia (855350)
        We're all going to need distilleries in our homes. Either that or distilled water will be sold out in stores and the price will skyrocket. This is just a scam to sell bottled water to us at exorbitant prices.
        • by KublaiKhan (522918) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:03PM (#22578666) Homepage Journal
          Distilleries aren't that expensive, though, and you don't -actually- need pure distilled water.

          You'll just have to clean out the electrolysis chamber periodically if you don't, because all the stuff that isn't water will end up caked all over the insides. Those of you with particularly hard water will have issues.
          • by Intron (870560) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:11PM (#22578784)
            The reason the process works is that the nanoparticles give the electrodes a large surface area. If you don't use distilled water, minerals would quickly clog all of the nano-spaces and destroy the efficiency.
            • by kimvette (919543) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:39PM (#22579220) Homepage Journal
              I presume you mean distilled and deionized water. . .

              Anyway, distilled water is actually a great insulator, unless it's contaminated with salts or other ionizing compounds. Electrolysis won't work with water unless it is conductive, so there would have to be some sort of ionizing agent present. The products of electrolysis are hydrogen and oxygen, and if distilled+deionized water is added, then the amount of "mineral" left in the "fuel" tank should remain constant (presuming the tank itself is inert and sealed). What this means is that cleaning the tank by draining it and refilling it, or refilling it after a leak would require thorough cleaning with known-pure water, and refilled with a specific amount of "mineral" (be it NaCl or an acid or whatever) for optimal efficiency.

              "Washing" the tank with hard water could destroy such a system for the reason you mentioned.
              • by PalmKiller (174161) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @06:00PM (#22579594) Homepage
                Oh yes, I for one prefer NaCl (table salt) over H2SO4 (Sulfuric Acid) cause I like making Clorine Gas with Drain cleaner as by products and only 1 hydrogen atom ... as apposed using H2S04 that produces twice the Hydrogen and oxygen gas as by products. NOT! When will people learn, you do not want to use salt as a catalyst for making hydrogen...unless your a terrorist.
      • by AJWM (19027) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:24PM (#22578970) Homepage
        Hell, the press release is clearer than the EE Times piece, they'd have been better off just reprinting it.

        Both are clearer than the summary, where the poster just made up the crap about "while driving".

        Since the electrolysis requires a fair strong alkali in the solution (to conduct charge, pure water not being very conductive itself), it makes sense to keep that in a tank you just keep topping up with distilled water (and recapture what is created from the fuel cell if you're using fuel cells and not just burning the hydrogen). Either keep the tank in the car or in the garage, but with the latter you have to deal with users (half of whom are of below average intelligence) responsible for the hydrogen delivery system to the car...which sounds like an accident waiting to happen. Keep the whole system in the car and just plug it in, like a fancy storage battery.
    • by meringuoid (568297) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:43PM (#22578280)
      What's with all the science articles lately that are basically investor scams?

      This isn't necessarily a scam. The potential energy of the hydrogen gas on recombination with oxygen is claimed to be at best 96% of what it took to extract it from water in the first place. So they pass the first test: they obey the laws of thermodynamics. Which is a big plus, for a /. front-page science article.

      • by KublaiKhan (522918) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:55PM (#22578508) Homepage Journal
        Which is a good thing, considering that I like to obey the laws of thermodynamics in my house.

        But at any rate, the one thing that I keep wondering about is how this in-car conversion of water to hydrogen will work--as yet, it keeps looking like this is just going to be another electric car implementation or something. Where's the power to crack the water coming from? Onboard batteries? Some other power source?
        • Easy from the Car Battery That gets continusly charged by the alternator, while the car is moving... (yes I kid). They can probably use something simular to todays hybrid cars to prolong the amount of energy produced in the car. By getting back some of the energy loss in acceleration from deceleration. Perhaps some Solar Panels may help too, but to less of an extend. I think the bulk of the power will come off your homes powergrid plugged into your car. What Fuel Cells cars are really are just a differnt
        • No no.

          They're saying that rather than taking your car to a fueling station, you would have the electrolizer either in your car, or in your house.

          So you'd drive your car home and swap fuel cells, or plug it into the household outlet for recharging.
          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by KublaiKhan (522918)
            Ah, see, that makes a -lot- more sense. The way the damn thing's worded makes it look like some kind of magic fairydust driven water->hydrogen->water cycle, which is, of course, ridiculous.

        • by Cedric Tsui (890887) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:14PM (#22578832)
          The article does not say anywhere that you can produce hydrogen while driving.
          My mistake (last post. Read the article and not the summary)

          The article says that Kevin Maloney says "Instead of switching 170,000 gas stations over to hydrogen, using our electrodes could enable consumers to make their own hydrogen, either in the garage or right on [sic] the vehicle,"

          Doesn't say 'while driving' It implies that you can supply some sort of power source, presumably plugging the car into an outlet to run the fuelcell backwards and produce hydrogen.
        • ... to have the on board electrolyzer. You would have to think of the whole system as a rechargeable battery as opposed to immediately thinking of it as a perpetual motion machine. You plug your car in overnight, which generates the hydrogen for your next trip/commute. In the morning you unplug and have some hydrogen to go. You don't need a combustion engine, just your standard fuel cell + electric motor. I suppose you could add in a large solar panel roof to produce a little extra hydrogen on the go a
      • by pilgrim23 (716938) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:09PM (#22578758)
        This process only needs water to make the fuel right? Sounds like this is Just the complimentary package we need to accompany MY new invention:
            Dehydrated Water!
          It comes in this special little pill you see. you just stick it in any tank and add water...
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        The potential energy of the hydrogen gas on recombination with oxygen is claimed to be at best 96% of what it took to extract it from water in the first place.

        But once you have the hydrogen, how do you get it to run your car?

        1) Burn it in a heat engine.
        2) Run it through a fuel cell to generate electricity to run an electric motor.

        For 1): Portable heat engines suitable for running an automobile pay a "carnot cycle tax" of about 75%. Throwing away three quarters of your hydrogen's energy is
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by rs79 (71822)
      Go rent a copy of "Who killed the electric car" then figure out what role the oil companies have in a hydrogen based economy.

      Then understand why the Bush administration dumped millions into hydrogren resarch and never mind any running car is ten years off from whenever you ask.

      We *might* be able to make hydrogen at home? Great. I *am* getting a lot of sunlight right now, and don't drive that much.

      Where's my electric option to cut me loose from the oil infrastructure? You know, the one that's actually techni
  • Vaporware? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Ogive17 (691899) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:40PM (#22578230)
    Sounds like vaporware to me!
  • by jabber (13196) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:42PM (#22578262) Homepage
    I already make my own combustible gas while I drive. I just need a motor that will work with it.
  • The first commenter, on the linked article's page, has a bridge for sale!
  • I'm confused (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PatentMagus (1083289) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:45PM (#22578316)
    So I can make hydrogen while driving. At an efficiency of perhaps 96%. So, 100 units of energy in resulting in 96 units of energy in the form of hydrogen. Those 96 units then pwoer the car.

    Why wouldn't I cut the middle step out and simply use 100% of the energy to make the wheels go round and round?
    • simple: heat is always wasted somewhere (especially friction), as is any water that is simply evaporated before it can be utilized
    • You misread the article.

      The nano-particles promise to create an electrolyzer which is 96% efficient at making hydrogen and oxygen from water. Next, you could put the oxygen and hydrogen into a car's fuel cell and turn it back into electricity at some efficiency.

      You can indeed cut out the middle man and have a car that uses 100% of the electrical energy available. This would mean skipping the whole hydrogen step, and having your car directly connected to the grid, just like the electric trains are today.
      • Re:I'm confused (Score:5, Informative)

        by dmatos (232892) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:18PM (#22578888)

        "Our nanoparticle-coated electrodes make electrolysers efficient enough to provide hydrogen on demand from a tank of distilled water in your car."

        If he mis-read the article, then I did as well. The statement above appears to indicate that they are suggesting you create hydrogen in your car while you're driving. To do this, you'll need electricity, and you'll end up losing out, because of the laws of thermodynamics. Your interpretation is slightly different, more reasonable, and not at all indicated by the article text. I believe you are describing a situation where you go home, plug your car in, and overnight it turns distilled water into hydrogen and oxygen.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by skywire (469351) *
        No. You misread the article. It said, "with these nanoparticle coatings, car owners could make their own hydrogen, either in their garage or even when driving." Now, the garage part makes great sense. The owner uses electricity to very efficiently produce hydrogen to carry as a convenient fuel (energy store) in the car. The part that makes no sense, and that your parent poster was pointing out, is the "even while driving". They would have to carry some store of energy (fuel or battery) to draw on to perform
        • Re:I'm confused (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Sosarian (39969) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @06:07PM (#22579712) Homepage
          I'm not sure why people are making this logical jump from "even when driving" to "produce all your hydrogen from driving".

          Just as in a Prius you could use regenerative braking to help you create some hydrogen to help you extend your range.

          I'm not sure it makes a lot of sense that way either, the added components to put that system in the car surely would cost more than a reasonably sized hydrogen tank that you could refill at home or at work or at a hydrogen station.
  • Problem with storage (Score:5, Informative)

    by orclevegam (940336) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:46PM (#22578326) Journal
    As someone pointed out in the comments on the last hydrogen story, the problem isn't so much making the stuff as it is storing it. Hydrogen cars are a pain because it's incredibly difficult to store hydrogen in such a way that it doesn't leak out. They mention in TFA that this process is so efficient that cars could do the electrolysis on the go with a tank of distilled water, but unless it's efficient enough to be self sustaining that won't work.
    • by MenTaLguY (5483) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:11PM (#22578794) Homepage
      If it's efficient enough to be self-sustaining (100% efficiency), you still won't have any energy left over to power the car.

      I think the most practical and efficient way to store hydrogen in a usable form is to bond it with short chains of atoms. Carbon seems to be the best choice as a "carrier" since you can attach two or three hydrogen atoms to each carbon atom in the chain, and the resulting compounds are liquid or gaseous at normal temperatures. I've no idea why this technology isn't already in widespread use; it's a simple matter of organic chemistry. :)
    • by ahfoo (223186) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @06:09PM (#22579770) Journal
      Not only do you avoid all the issues of converting vehicles --a very big issue indeed-- you can also invert the normal equation and actually consume atmospheric CO2 in the process.

      How bout them apples? Not only would such a technique halt the addition of CO2 into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels, it would actually begin to actively reduce CO2 levels.

      The chemistry is old school.
      CO2 + 3H2 --> CH3OH + H2O

      CH3OH is methanol.

      Using catalysts, which is this company's specialty, it is possible to convert methano into gasoline.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methanol_to_gasoline [wikipedia.org]

      This way you change as little as possible on the consumer automotive side and yet still move to a post-pertroleum world without any new massive automotive technology roll out. That's a freakin' huge plus right there. A lot of people genuinely love their old cars. This way they can keep their old rides forever. As much as I love clean tech, I kind of have a love affair with my old car I've rebuilt so many times and there's a lot of people like that in this world. The easier we make it for everyone to participate, the faster the impact will happen. If you just go with gasoline, the switch can happen almost overnight.

      If the hydrogen production process is really as efficient as they claim, it should be quite cheap on top of the environmental and political benefits. Moreover, you could install the production facilities very near existing gas tank farms located at the edges of large metro areas thus further maximizing efficiencies that petroleum can't hope to match be eliminating the need for extensive liquid fuels transport systems.

      The CO2 could be produced through simple air compression. Local gasoline would once more be a reality.
  • "Our nanoparticle-coated electrodes make electrolysers efficient enough to provide hydrogen on demand from a tank of distilled water in your car."

    I can't decide whether using bottled water as a fuel source would end up making it more expensive, or less. On one hand, someone would try to make even more money off it...but on the other, it's already the most ludicrously priced product out there.

    disclaimer: yes, I know bottle water isn't distilled...or even filtered, often.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by techpawn (969834)

      I can't decide whether using bottled water as a fuel source would end up making it more expensive, or less
      BP Gas: 3.17 per Gal
      Deer Park Water: 1.19 per 16 oz
      That would be about .08 an oz... so 9.52 a gallon?
  • by wile_e_wonka (934864) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:47PM (#22578358)
    Excellent--now everyone will have tanks of hydrogen gas in their homes.

    Is there some way I can invest in firehouses?
    • Actually they'll have tanks of distilled water in their homes if you bothered to RTFA:

      "Our nanoparticle-coated electrodes make electrolysers efficient enough to provide hydrogen on demand from a tank of distilled water in your car."
      • People can produce the H2 "either in their garage or even when driving" is what the article says.

        Not only in the car. If you bothered to comprehend TFA.
    • by Deadstick (535032)
      Just stick it in your garage, next to the 20 gallons of gasoline under your car.

      rj
    • by sm62704 (957197)
      You already have a very combustable gas in your home, natural gas. If you don't then even worse, you have a tank of propane in your yard.

      I saw a thing on one of the educational channels a bunch of years ago where some guy shot first a tank of hydrogen with a thirty ought six, then a tank of gasoline with supposedly the same energy density.

      The hydrogen looked a lot safer to me. Once when I was in 7th grade I manufactured some hydrogen, took it to school, and almost got expelled [slashdot.org]. These days I'd probably have
  • 2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom... shouldn't the maximum efficiency be 66%? :)
  • by gvc (167165) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:49PM (#22578378)
    You can't just extract hydrogen from water. You need energy. When you're driving along, what source? An internal combustion motor? Solar panels?

    Hydrogen is a method for transmission and storage of energy. It is not a source of energy. At least not until they figure out controlled fusion.

    • by IdeaMan (216340)
      You get the energy to split the hydrogen from radio waves like Nikola Tesla suggested. However you gotta get that energy from somewhere, and that's an easy fix: just truck in coal from somewhere in Africa where they don't care about strip-mining. But the ships will be out of range of the radio, so run those on satellite microwave power. But the satellites need to be pushed up, cuz they keep falling see, so use a laser to hold them up. BUT, don't forget the laser needs power, so run it on that new clear
  • Article Summary (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kryptKnight (698857) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:49PM (#22578390)
    Here's a two sentence summary for the people who don't read articles:

    Instead of using a really good conductor to make the electrodes used for electrolysis, these people propose increasing the electrode's surface area 8,000 times by coating an ordinary steel electrode with butt loads of nanoparticles that are optimized for surface area and conductivity.

    That sounds feasible to me.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by DRJlaw (946416)
      Instead of using a really good conductor to make the electrodes used for electrolysis, these people propose increasing the electrode's surface area 8,000 times by coating an ordinary steel electrode with butt loads of nanoparticles that are optimized for surface area and conductivity.

      Replace "conductor" with catalyst. The issue isn't the conductivity of the anode and/or cathode, but the rate at which water is split into hydrogen and oxygen compared to the rate at which energy is conducted through the cell
  • The problems I had with hydrogen is that electrolysis isn't efficient enough, you need expensive platinum or palladium catalysts in the fuel cells, and you either need some exotic storage/transport mechanism made of unobtainium, or you have individual users make their own hydrogen (which makes it even less efficient).

    Looks like this solves most of those problems. As long as this nanoparticle catalyst is cheaper than platinum (not terribly difficult [kitco.com]), the hydrogen economy might actually have a future.

    • by Bombula (670389)
      Looks like this solves most of those problems.

      Huh? Even if you can produce hydrogen efficiently, you're still left with two other large problems: 1) where do you get the energy to produce it? And 2) how do you utilize it?

      For the first question, presumably the energy comes out of your wall socket. That's great, since that can include green sources such as wind and solar. No problem there unless ... you're not at home.

      For the second problem, well, now you're bubbling out all this hydrogen gas from water.

  • by sm62704 (957197) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:50PM (#22578404) Journal
    Related post: Nano particles could make hydrogen cheaper than [some other very expensive commodity whose price has been driven up artificially]

    I want a wind powered car! A flying wind powered car. A flying wind powered car that drives itself.

    And a pony.
  • by ProppaT (557551) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:51PM (#22578426) Homepage
    Sounds like this one will kill two birds with one stone. Where do I sign up to get a pee tube installed in my car?
  • by rossz (67331) <ogre@@@geekbiker...net> on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:53PM (#22578462) Homepage Journal
    Everybody giggling about this would mean the end of "Big Oil" forgets that gasoline is only one of many petroleum based products. Plastics are still going to be a huge market, for example. The oil companies still won't like it, as their profits will no doubt go down. On the plus side, the profits for terrorist funders (Saudi Arabia) would go down, too.

    • Everybody giggling about this would mean the end of "Big Oil" forgets that gasoline is only one of many petroleum based products. Plastics are still going to be a huge market, for example. The oil companies still won't like it, as their profits will no doubt go down. On the plus side, the profits for terrorist funders (Saudi Arabia) would go down, too.

      Plastics are recyclable, and aren't produced from the same hydrocarbons as gasoline IIRC.

      Likewise, we've already come up with a few ways to make bio-plastics (some of them even being economically on-par with petroleum-based plastics). I imagine that more alternative materials will surface as time goes on. Conserving and reusing plastics will take some getting used to, but also won't be a huge issue.

      Perhaps we might even be able to do away with the "disposable" consumer culture we live in.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hoggoth (414195)
      You seem to be making the common error of mistaking an energy transport technology (Hydrogen) for an energy source (Oil & Gasoline).

      We still need energy to MAKE that Hydrogen. Whether it is done at big plants or from electricity in your house, the energy has to come from somewhere. Big oil will still be drilling to supply the engines the generate electricity that comes to your house that makes Hydrogen. Coal and Oil will still be the big sources of energy for a long time. Wind, Water, Solar, and Unicorn
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by superstick58 (809423)
      Why do people think the profits for big oil will go down? Isn't it more realistic that Hydrogen power will be provided as a supplement to oil? It's true that it is not good for demand to be flat, but I'm sure a company that makes a business of selling energy would also get into selling Hydrogen energy. So any fall in demand or stagnation in demand for Oil will be made up with increased demand for Hydrogen and electricity. The overall demand for energy is always going to go up. The means for providing that e
  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:55PM (#22578504) Homepage
    The article says "Our nanoparticle-coated electrodes make electrolysers efficient enough to provide hydrogen on demand from a tank of distilled water in your car."

    That's a completely baffling statement to me. So baffling as to trigger my BS detector.

    Presumably the point of producing it in the car is to avoid the need to store the gaseous hydrogen. But electrolysing hydrogen requires energy--the hydrogen is not a source of energy so much as it is a storage medium for energy. So where would that energy come from?

    From a gasoline-powered generator in your car? Or what?

    Sounds like a smooth-talking snake-oil salesman who's answer to everything is "yes, we've solved that problem too."

     
    • by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:06PM (#22578706) Homepage
      The article as written makes no sense. You need energy to electrolyze the water to produce hydrogen, so you can't just carry a tank of water in your car instead of a tank of hydrogen; you still need to carry around energy in some form.

      The commentary on the original article, though, links to the the press release [qsinano.com] which clarifies it. The application they're talking about is a plug-in rechargable car. When you're at home, you plug it in, the car electrolyzes water to produce hydrogen, and then, when you unplug it, you run the car on the hydrogen.

      The application, then, doesn't address the problem of how to store hydrogen, only the problem of how to produce it.

  • Trouble is, it's still stuck using distilled water. I'm waiting for a hydrogen converter that can handle rainwater, or household greywater, or the aforementioned on-board pee tube.
  • ABout 4 years ago, I was talking to a guy from NREL. He told me that the best ppl in NREL were predicting that fuel cell technology would be commericial feasible in about 15-20 years. Even today, fuel cells are still expensive and prone to issues with dirt. We still have a lousy storage mechanism efficiency. Even with this conversion, it has at best a 15% (does not include ANY other loses). Considering that Tesla and a number of other companies are introducing the electric cars with far less loses over the
  • ! Perpetual Motion (Score:5, Interesting)

    by skelly33 (891182) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:18PM (#22578874)
    There's some criticism as to the notion that hydrogen could be created right on board a moving vehicle represents perpetual motion. It doesn't. Those critics are just jumping to conclusions. The implication is that the coating supposedly improves electrolysis efficiency to such a degree that hydrogen could be created with a small enough on-board system on-demand. With today's elecrolyzers, to make enough hydrogen on-demand to run a vehicle, the hydrogen generation gear would be bigger than the vehicle, so efficiency improvement translates to size reduction which makes this approach plausible. The PEM fuel cell went through similar size reduction before it was ready for passenger vehicle use. Anyway, it means you would have to have a power supply such as a rechargeable battery to run the electrolyzer on. I did not take from the story that they were claiming a system where: 1) water + power in, 2)hydrogen out, 3) hydrogen in, 4) power out, repeat for a water-fueled system. It needs power.

    Now, why would you want to do this instead of simply use the battery for electric drive? Well, one could make the argument that converting standard hyrdocarbon fuels from the pump to hydrogen ON the vehicle eliminates the need for fueling infrastructure change which is a MAJOR barrier to the widespread adoption of a "hydrogen economy". With hydrogen on the vehicle it could be used to power a fuel cell for electric drive or some other combustion engine such as BMW's multi-fuel hydrogen car. "Just add power" (solar? plug-in? other?) and if it's all done just right, what you get is more efficient fuel combustion with lower emissions than you would have gotten from burning the gasoline straight. That model I think could be viewed as a "stepping stone" towards conversion much like today's hybrid cars are regarded as a stepping stone towards all electric.

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