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Power Science

A New Way To Produce Hydrogen 204

Posted by kdawson
from the doctor-clark-i-presume dept.
Iddo Genuth writes "Scientists at Pennsylvania State University and Virginia Commonwealth University are producing hydrogen by exposing clusters of aluminum atoms to water. Rather than relying on the electronic properties of the aluminum, this new process depends on the geometric distribution of atoms within the clusters. It requires the presence of 'Lewis acids' and 'Lewis bases' in those atoms (water can act as either). Unlike most hydrogen production processes, this method can be used at room temperature and doesn't require the application of heat or electricity to work. The researchers experimented with a variety of different aluminum cluster patterns, discovering three that result in hydrogen production."
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A New Way To Produce Hydrogen

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 01, 2009 @06:25AM (#27028607)
    Interesting scientifically but hardly practical for energy systems. Aluminium requires huge amounts of energy to produce, to the point where is is essentially "frozen electricity". Given that their end result is aluminium oxide, aren't they just recovering some of the energy that into refining?
    • by Shadow of Eternity (795165) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @06:35AM (#27028655)

      Sounds more like they've basically just found something vaguely useful to do with waste aluminum.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by eiapoce (1049910)

        Aluminium is 100% recyclable it would be a 200% waste. 100% because you waste the energy needed for production and another 100$ because you need to separate it from other elements and then refine it.

      • by ebuck (585470) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @11:12AM (#27029779)

        For all practical purposes, there is no waste aluminium.

        Aluminium ore is plentiful but the costs to refine the ore into pure metal are very high. The technique uses tons of electricity to reverse the natural oxidation process. If you have post-consumer aluminium to start with, you can recover about 85% of the metal at a much lower energy cost. The lower energy cost is significant since it comprises 20% to 40% of the cost of production.

        It sounds like these gentleman have discovered a faster way to get aluminium metal to oxidise to it's lower energy states with Hydrogen as a useful by-product. I'm curious how this would work past the surface area of an aluminium block. Aluminium oxide is incredibly durable, somewhat brittle, and rather impervious to oxygen. With a combination like that, the oxide protects the inner aluminium metal from further oxidation. I'll wager that's why their technique requires "small clusters" of atoms.

        This sounds interesting as a use-once hydrogen battery, but it's not solving any global scale energy needs. The cost to produce aluminium metal is just too high. Still, it has a number of niche areas where it could be very useful. Aluminium could be seen as a high density battery for hydrogen powered fuel cells. It's relatively light, and could be incorporated into electrical generation systems for space vehicles.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Mista2 (1093071)

          Or for stationary fuel cells, you can truck in the aluminium in powder form, deposit in a bunker or tank and have the system churn that into Hydrogen in safe to store quantaties. You dont need much to run a house if you add solar/wind and good thermal design into the mix, even in countries with lower output from solar, or wind.
          I dont see hwo this would be much different to how my father had an oil tank at home and had it filled once a year to run the central heating.

        • High Density Battery (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Doc Ruby (173196) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @09:42PM (#27035129) Homepage Journal

          How energy efficient is the dis/charge cycle using this new process? And how dense an energy storage medium could such a battery be, say, compared to Li-Ion batteries (or to gasoline, the champ)?

          If dis/charge is at all close to 90%+, and storing about 400Mj (the way a 16 gallon gas tank does at 20% internal combustion efficiency), in anything close to approximately 40 pounds for gas, then it's a replacement. Since the electricity powers lighter motors (electric instead of gas), and conserves nearly all the regenerative braking power, its capacity needs to be only less than 400Mj to compete, maybe 350Mj, or even less if we don't get the full range (about 600 miles in a gas hybrid), maybe 175Mj.

          Since an (single use) aluminum battery [wikipedia.org] can be up to about 4.75Mj:Kg, (gasoline * 20% = 9.33Mj:Kg), the aluminum is probably twice as heavy for gasoline's energy. But if we can accept half the range, it might be OK, if this tech lets it recharge efficiently.

          Better battery tech is very exciting. Energy storage is probably the worst link in all the alternative energy systems we're now looking at. Even if it's not good for cars, if the material costs less than lead-acid batteries (like under $36:Kj), it's a major advantage for home/building power. Even if just storing power during non-peak times for local discharge during peak times.

    • by Bloater (12932)

      Depends how easily that aluminium oxide can be converted back to aluminium - if it is easy enough then this is a better cycle than electrolysis and might finally make hydrogen a sensible alternative energy storage medium than oil.

      so we'll have to wait and see.

      • by aliquis (678370)

        It don't take a genius to understand that if aluminium within the water picks up the oxygen spontaneously the reacting generates energy, and if you want to remove that oxygen you'll have to consume energy. So at best you have got as much energy from creating the aluminiumoxide and water from the hydrogen gas that you put in to make the aluminium.

        But then you won't have a 1:1 efficiency, sure, I've heard electrolysis suck TO.

        I have no idea about efficiency rates, maybe you get much more energy from letting h

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by MrNaz (730548) *

          I think what you meant to say was "Lisa, in this house, we obey the laws of thermodynamics!"

        • by Bloater (12932)

          I'm talking about taking renewable energy to manufacture hydrogen at source. Rather than use electrolysis, this discovery might form a part of a better process.

    • by rdnetto (955205) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @08:07AM (#27028935)

      I probably shouldn't expect this, but RTFA!
      They're not producing Al2O3, they're producing something similar to AL(OH)3. I say similar because they're using clusters of Al, not atoms/ions. It seems to me that simply adding a strong acid would revert these back to AL(H2O)3, resulting in the evolution of more H2, but I'm sure that's been considered already...

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        If you add a strong acid to Al(H0)3, your H+ will bond to HO- to give water. I don't know why you think H2 will be produced. That's not what happens when you add acids and bases.
      • by jcorno (889560) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @11:12AM (#27029777)

        They're not producing Al2O3, they're producing something similar to AL(OH)3. I say similar because they're using clusters of Al, not atoms/ions. It seems to me that simply adding a strong acid would revert these back to AL(H2O)3, resulting in the evolution of more H2, but I'm sure that's been considered already...

        Aluminum hydroxide is just hyrated aluminum oxide (alumina + water). So they are producing Al2O3. And making acids isn't free, either; that chemical energy has to come from somewhere.

        Also, the reaction of acids with hydroxides doesn't produce hydrogen. It produces water and salts.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          Aluminum hydroxide is just hyrated aluminum oxide (alumina + water). So they are producing Al2O3.

          This is preposterous. Do you really think that hydroxide and water are the same thing??

    • by Ex-MislTech (557759) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @10:19AM (#27029449)

      Agreed, I like this method better.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biological_hydrogen_production [wikipedia.org]

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by sentientbeing (688713)

      The huge amounts of energy shouldnt be a problem, we could use hydrogen - its nice and clean.

      Theyve just found a new way to make it. Using aluminum

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      And what if you could use aluminium as the 'fuel' for your car? H2 is difficult and dangerous to store in a tank, but is nice as it runs in a more-or-less unmodified petrol engine. So if instead you could carry Al + H20 as the 'fuel', which creates H2, which your engine burns, the whole process is safer.

  • Still not..... (Score:3, Informative)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @06:25AM (#27028611) Journal
    The problem is the aluminum can't be used over and over again, a problem which the scientists are working to solve.

    Still not economically viable, but hopefully continued research in hydrogen will replace the hype about plant based ethanol, which is not really a solution (because we need to eat corn, etc).
    • Re:Still not..... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Joce640k (829181) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @06:31AM (#27028633) Homepage

      Pretty pointless - separating the aluminum from the oxygen will require the same amount of energy you got from the hydrogen.

      • by Rogerborg (306625) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @06:53AM (#27028705) Homepage

        Pretty pointless - separating the aluminum from the oxygen will require the same amount of energy you got from the hydrogen.

        Not so. We'll just ship it to China, and they'll do it for a quarter of the energy that an American worker would charge.

        [Suggested moderation: It's Funny Because Someone Will IPO a Company Based on This Premise and kdawson Will Run The Story For Them]

        • Being fair (Score:3, Interesting)

          by WindBourne (631190)
          You mean a quarter of the costs. For the same amount, the energy usage will actually go up (extreme inefficiency in China) as will the pollution (extremely dirty coal with little to no scrubbers). The real irony would be that moving to hydrogen is suppose to clean up the air, but schemes like this would actually increase it significantly.

          Yes, I know that you meant to be funny, yet, somebody will be thinking of the same thing. Oddly enough as a child, I use to generate hydrogen doing this "NEW" way. We got
          • That 50's book would have required you to add caustic soda (old fashioned drain cleaner). This is indeed a NEW method that relies on a specific structure built with aluminium atoms alone, I agree it's a long, long, way from a clean and commercially usefull method but that is besides the point.
          • by Rogerborg (306625) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @03:03PM (#27031669) Homepage

            You mean a quarter of the costs.

            No, I'm pretty sure that would spoil the joke.

            Yes, I know that you meant to be funny, yet, somebody will be thinking of the same thing.

            And I'm pretty sure that I covered that in the [bracketed section]. But thanks for beating the point to death with your remorseless logic. How's the weather on Vulcan this time of year?

      • by mlwmohawk (801821)

        Pretty pointless - separating the aluminum from the oxygen will require the same amount of energy you got from the hydrogen.

        All energy is not the same. Converting from a form of plentiful but difficult to use energy to something line electricity is what hydroelectric generators do.

        So, if hydrogen can be produced easily from reaction 'A' and the components can be recovered and reused with reaction 'B' and reaction 'B' uses a plentiful, renewable, and clean energy, then it is a win.

      • by renoX (11677)

        You should have quoted the parent: for a moment I believed that you mistook energy production (ethanol) with energy distribution (H2 or electricity) as the GP did.

      • Re:Still not..... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @08:27AM (#27029001)

        Hey, it doesn't say "A New Way To Produce Hydrogen For Free!"

        I mean, I don't understand the reactions to this article. They just found out aluminum can be attacked by water via a sequence of Lewis acid-base reactions that result in a standard substitution reaction, depending on the geometry of the aluminum cluster.

        It's a very interesting form of corrosion and people are acting like this is supposed to be a perpetual motion machine.

        • It's a very interesting form of corrosion and people are acting like this is supposed to be a perpetual motion machine.

          If you've ever worked around boats, you'd realize that corrosion is a form of perpetual motion. The boat owner is perpetually trying to replace / repair / clean the damned thing.

          At least, it always seems like that to me (who is about to go to the marina to see what broke on the boat since the last time I was at the marina).

        • by megaditto (982598)

          Well, I for one do understand the reaction to the article, and I blame the shift to sensationalism as a strategy to get more research funds.

          Sadly, that's becoming a routine procedure these days: sequencing a T-cell receptor gives you "Cure for AIDS," a low-temp polymer curing process results in "Free Solar Cells," or some minute femtoscale laser advance leads to immediate "cheap benchtop fusion!!!1!"

          I am mixed in my feeling towards this sort of populism. On the one hand, it's important to give some feedback

      • In an ideal scenario, you could have an aluminum reactor tank all set up to dissociate water and release hydrogen gas - pour in the water, get the hydrogen for use in an IC engine, turbine, or whatever, and when the reactor tank is too oxidized to be useful, swap it out for another, and recycle the first one.

        If the recycling process is highly efficient and environmentally friendly, this might make sense for a portable clean fuel solution.

        Some big ifs in there... still not a bad thing to spend research d
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Hydrogen's not an energy source. It's an energy storage medium. If this eventually develops into a convenient method for producing it, it may be worth something in the long run.

        • > Hydrogen's not an energy source. It's an energy storage medium.

          Sure, it's an energy source - if you pile up about 10^20 metric tons of it!

      • by frieko (855745)
        Yeah, I threw out all my rechargeable batteries because they have exactly the same problem!
    • by jareds (100340) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @06:35AM (#27028649)

      The problem is the aluminum can't be used over and over again, a problem which the scientists are working to solve.

      "In this house, we obey the laws of thermodynamics!"

      [I read the article, I know it says the same thing -- I'm criticizing it too.]

    • The problem is the aluminum can't be used over and over again

      [Citation Needed]. If you are thinking of the waste that appears when melting any metal, which is called "dross" in the industry, there are ways to handle it [google.com]

      hopefully continued research in hydrogen will replace the hype about plant based ethanol, which is not really a solution

      On the contrary, ethanol as a fuel is not only a solution, it's a mature technology [wikipedia.org]. My first 100% ethanol-burning car was a Brazilian 1983 Chevette, which I bought used in

      • by Markspark (969445)
        You do have a point about the infrastructure needs that rise with new energy carriers such as biogas or hydrogen, but solid oxide fuel cells can run on hydrocarbons or hydrogen, and thereby is a viable option for using biogas as a intermediary carrier, and later shifting to hydrogen if the technology gets advanced enough.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by GooberToo (74388)

        On the contrary, ethanol as a fuel is not only a solution, it's a mature technology [wikipedia.org]. My first 100% ethanol-burning car was a Brazilian 1983 Chevette, which I bought used in 1985. The last time gasoline was sold in Brazil without at least 10% of ethanol was in 1976 [wikipedia.org]

        But you're ignoring many, many facts to make your argument. It works in Brazil because of their climate and readily available sugar cane; which is a great source for ethanol. Corn on the other hand, is a poor source

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        On the contrary, ethanol as a fuel is not only a solution, it's a mature technology.

        What's wrong with your statement is that ethanol is mostly coming from unsustainable feedstocks. When they start making it from algae produced during the cleaning of dirty water [sdsu.edu] (alongside biofuel and fertilizer) instead of corn needed for food for humans [kottke.org]. Or perhaps it's only that the users of Ethanol are immature? Show me some practical cellulosic ethanol production and that your fuel has come from sustainable sources, and I'll pipe down. A bit.

        Any gasoline engine will run, with reduced performance, on ethanol. Tuning a car to run on ethanol is a relatively simple task.

        Current gasoline engines suck. Ethanol has a lower energy den

    • by aliquis (678370)

      I think etanol may be a better solution since no matter how you will manufacture the hydrogen you'll still need to put in energy in the process, and that energy has to come somewhere so it's not as simple as some idiots would think that we can just burn the hydrogen, get water and lots of free energy ..

      With etanol atleast the actual production of the carbohydrates (but also the uhm, "yeasting"?) is manufactured without us putting in any energy since the sun does that for us.

      So as long as we don't produce th

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Night64 (1175319)

      ... Still not economically viable, but hopefully continued research in hydrogen will replace the hype about plant based ethanol, which is not really a solution (because we need to eat corn, etc).

      Despite what some farmers want you to think, there ate plenty of ways to make biofuel other than corn. Soy, rapeseed, jatropha, mahua, mustard, flax, sunflower, palm oil, hemp, field pennycress, pongamia pinnata and algae are some examples. In Brazil we use sugar cane since 1978 with great success, and flex fuel engines now have 50% market share of the vehicle fleet (excluding diesel-powered engines).

    • Ethanol can be obtained from a myriad sources, not only corn and sugarcane. It can be obtained from algae [popularmechanics.com] for example. Not cheap yet but hydrogen fuel cells aren't cheap either.

    • by Locutus (9039)

      plant based ethanol is not bad in itself. As you stated though, using plants we use for food or food stock to product ethanol is a problem. IMO, using corn was all a scam by the Bush/Cheney/Oil industry to delay even longer any meaningful reduction in oil usage. Or else they are really really really dumb and did not have a clue that removing corn from the food supply would increase food costs. IMO.

      LoB

      • by russotto (537200)

        IMO, using corn was all a scam by the Bush/Cheney/Oil industry to delay even longer any meaningful reduction in oil usage.

        Wrong players. Using corn is all a scam by the Archer Daniels Midland company. They were around before Bush/Cheney and they'll be around after Obama/Biden is gone.

  • by abigsmurf (919188) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @06:30AM (#27028629)

    IANAC but the article sounds like it's another way of oxidising Aluminium. I can see this being very impractical for a few reasons. Main one it's incredibly hard to store aluminium in a way where it won't oxidise, especially as this would work would need it to be powdered and without that layer of oxidised aluminium on the top, it's incredibly reactive and dangerous.

    You're then left with a large pile of Oxidised aluminium which I don't believe has any use apart from the production of 'pure' aluminium (which requires lots of electricity). Ultimately I can't see this offering much benefit over existing methods of hydrogen production

    • by mpe (36238)
      I can see this being very impractical for a few reasons. Main one it's incredibly hard to store aluminium in a way where it won't oxidise, especially as this would work would need it to be powdered

      Which is probably more use for making rocket fuel

      and without that layer of oxidised aluminium on the top, it's incredibly reactive and dangerous.

      An oxide layer typically protects the metal. It's a combination of reactive metal and inert oxide, thus under normal conditions you have what appears to be a quite
    • The article doesn't really give details - it could be an interesting idea if they have a highly efficient method of producing the desired clusters in a very high density - and oxidizing Aluminum to generate pure hydrogen is at least novel.

      An efficient recycling step would make this interesting for widespread use - without that it does seem like just a novelty.
    • by v1 (525388) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @10:52AM (#27029643) Homepage Journal

      It's just so entertaining to watch people find "free energy" in some form or another, by consuming some commonly available thing to produce energy, all the while completely ignoring the energy required to make the consumable.

      Someone once described to me a process by which you use electrolysis to create hydrogen from water, and then burn that to create electricity, the surplus of which you can then use to create more hydrogen. (and you can even improve your yield by using the pure oxygen you are getting as a byproduct when creating the hydrogen!) And water is the free fuel! *SMACK*

      • True there is no such thing as free energy, but if we can find a way of using some useless/unwanted element and turn it into a useful one, that would be enough, even if it was not efficient.
  • Methane we produce the same old way.

    Pass the baked beans, luv!

  • by doktorjayd (469473) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @07:01AM (#27028725) Homepage Journal

    .. pull my finger.

  • Grant Money (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anenome (1250374) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @07:12AM (#27028765)

    Smells like someone's grant is about to run out. Solution: the press-release, stir things up a little, generate some news and attention, it's a common way to generate hype, interest, etc. As has been pointed out, they won't solve the fact that the aluminum in the process is not merely catalytic, but used up by the process. Little thing called oxidation. If only they had a bit MORE MONEY to solve the problem... for the next 30 years or so, put their kids through college, yada, yada ;P

    If you ever found a way to separate water into its constituent molecules at room temperature, no energy input needed, no chemical input needed, etc., you'd have just solved the world's energy problems for all time.

    • by rdnetto (955205)

      Not to mention having violated the Law of Conservation of Energy.

    • by b4upoo (166390)

      Perhaps aluminum oxide in a finely granulated form could be reformed by solar heat. These scientists may have found a small step in a difficult problem.

    • Read the article. There is nothing in it about perpetual motion: just an interesting and possibly useful reaction.

  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @07:14AM (#27028771) Homepage

    Yes, three times the energy density of gasoline by mass but only one third the energy density by volume (and that's for liquid hydrogen).

    Yes, fuel cells can be three times as efficient as burning gasoline, but it takes 2.5 times as much energy to make a hydrogen fuel cell than you'll ever get out of it over its lifetime. Where's that energy coming from? Milking invisible pink unicorns?

    Ford has dropped development of hydrogen cars in favour of going straight to all electric.

    Hydrogen is over before it even begun. It's less efficient than electric by any measure, and if you're betting on a big breakthrough (this isn't it) then the smart money is on capacitors (powered by wind, wave, solar, geothermal), not some magic leap forward in hydrogen production or fuel cell construction. At this point, it really is an academic proposition.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by timmarhy (659436)
      agreed. electric has the distribution grid already there. it wins.

      i'm still not jumping in until they refine ultra capcaitors to the point i can get 500km out of them per charge. once that happens, sweet.

      • Why? (Score:3, Informative)

        by WindBourne (631190)
        Seriously, why? I am assuming that you do not commute more than 100 km each day, and are not off-roading. So why do you need 500 km? A 100 would do nicely for 95% of the world.

        A super cap can take the power as fast as you deliver it. Personally, I suspect that new highend power stations would be develop for this, so that if doing a 100km/charge, then a fill up would likely take under a minute.

        What is FAR more important is that car companies MUST come up with a STANDARD HIGH-END plug AND way to plug in?
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by abigsmurf (919188)

          There's something that's never addressed with electric cars: heating and air conditioning.

          Whilst you could sweat it out in a baking hot car, you can't drive with misted up or frozen wind shield. Heating and cooling both use huge amounts of power

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by ngileadi (966224)
            [citation needed]
            Do you have any figures about this? Mobile air conditioners with COP of 2 or so are being developed these days (IPCC/TEAP special report, page 306 [www.mnp.nl]), and I can't imagine the energy consumption is significant compared to the actual transport, unless the temperature differences are extreme. I'm willing to be proven wrong, though.
          • Re:Why? (Score:4, Interesting)

            by rcw-home (122017) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @03:49PM (#27032021)

            Whilst you could sweat it out in a baking hot car, you can't drive with misted up or frozen wind shield. Heating and cooling both use huge amounts of power

            That's very true. I don't see a way to address this without using up battery power that could have driven the car several miles further. However, I do see ways to reduce its effect:

            • Heating via heat pump - this can be 4x more efficient than resistive heat, and a heat pump designed to be operated in reverse can do your A/C too.
            • Continuous dehumidification - perhaps using power from a small solar panel to run a small dehumidifier which drains outside, or reheating some silica gel when the car is plugged into the grid (again, venting the moisture outside). Lowering the wet bulb temperature inside the car reduces the need to use heat to unfog windows.
            • Double-paned windows - these would be bulkier and more expensive to produce, but you could quickly heat just the insides of them. They would also be much quieter.
            • Heated seats - directly heat the passengers' cores instead of everything else in the car.
            • by blindseer (891256)

              Heating via heat pump - this can be 4x more efficient than resistive heat, and a heat pump designed to be operated in reverse can do your A/C too.

              I have a heat pump on my house. It also operates in reverse to cool. I also have a natural gas furnace since when the temperature drops below 20 degrees F the heat pump efficiency drops too low to be economical. If I was to bypass that temperature lockout I could run it in colder temperatures but at 0 degrees F the efficiency is worse than electric resistive heat.

              Continuous dehumidification - perhaps using power from a small solar panel to run a small dehumidifier which drains outside, or reheating some silica gel when the car is plugged into the grid (again, venting the moisture outside). Lowering the wet bulb temperature inside the car reduces the need to use heat to unfog windows.

              Solar panels are quite expensive and I doubt it would provide sufficient power to dehumidify a car. A dehumidifier is just another heat pump,

              • by rcw-home (122017)

                at 0 degrees F the efficiency is worse than electric resistive heat.

                This is a matter of choosing the right working fluids and pressures. The freezer in my house happily removes heat from 0 degree F air.

                Solar panels are quite expensive and I doubt it would provide sufficient power to dehumidify a car.

                The idea is that it would work slowly, constantly.

                Even if it could be done cheaply and effectively too low of humidity is quite uncomfortable.

                Everything in moderation. Cars are constantly accumulating moisture t

        • Seriously, why? I am assuming that you do not commute more than 100 km each day, and are not off-roading. So why do you need 500 km?

          I know this may come as a surprise to you - but people do more with their vehicles than commute.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          IOW, the smart thing is for the industry to figure a plug that is used by all the cars, and preferably allows for automatic hook-up (car IDs self, open cap, robotic arm moves power cable in and recharges).

          I was with you until the automatic hook-up part. You could implement this on any car.

          Much more important than the connector is a standard protocol for agreeing on the charging voltage and current. It's not inconceivable that the vehicles would end up with multiple charging interfaces anyway; e.g. a 220V two-phase which you can plug into a dryer outlet, and then whatever even-higher-power socket you used for quick-charging. Adding more is cheap, easy, and takes up little space. Even having to open the hood/b

    • by rolfwind (528248) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @07:42AM (#27028841)

      Hydrogen is over before it even begun. It's less efficient than electric by any measure, and if you're betting on a big breakthrough (this isn't it) then the smart money is on capacitors (powered by wind, wave, solar, geothermal), not some magic leap forward in hydrogen production or fuel cell construction. At this point, it really is an academic proposition.

      Electricity needs a storage medium. Batteries are not there yet. Capacitors may never be there.

      For large scale energy storage, pumping water up against gravity is a good thing. A dam of some type. Hydrogen can be good for small scale things.

      I think steam electrolysis of hydrogen will be a good way to go. All you need is a mirrored parabolic dish. No earth-made energy to use.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-temperature_electrolysis [wikipedia.org]

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by grumbel (592662)

        Electricity needs a storage medium.

        My power outlet works just fine without a hydrogen tank in my house. Now with solar panels, windmills and whatever it might be different, but thats not where most of our power comes from for a long while to come. The big problem I see with hydrogen is that I just don't see how it would be more effective building a completly new infrastructure to ship hydrogen around, when we already have a perfectly fine infrastructure to move electricity around. Hydrogen also doesn't seem to be more efficient then latest b

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Electricity needs a storage medium.

          My power outlet works just fine without a hydrogen tank in my house.

          Uh...

          A electric car that I can just plug into the power outlet seems a lot more convenient to me then one into which I have to inject hydrogen.

          That electric car is going to need some way to store electricity. Back to square one!

          I don't really know much about the topic

          No kidding? Kind of like you don't know that electric cars don't (usually) run on a long-ass extension cord running back to your house?

          • by grumbel (592662)

            That electric car is going to need some way to store electricity. Back to square one!

            Yeah, its called a battery. Thing is, a fuel cell doesn't run on electricity, it runs on hydrogen and hydrogen isn't coming out of the power outlet, so you have to either generate it by different means (electrolysis) or ship it around, neither of which sounds more efficient then just using a good old battery.

            • by drinkypoo (153816)

              Thing is, a fuel cell doesn't run on electricity, it runs on hydrogen and hydrogen isn't coming out of the power outlet, so you have to either generate it by different means (electrolysis) or ship it around, neither of which sounds more efficient then just using a good old battery.

              The production of batteries (starting with their raw materials) and the recycling of batteries are both energy-intensive and toxic.

              Efficiency isn't the whole story; environmental impact (after all, we live in the environment) is a critical component.

              I don't know that Hydrogen is going to help us all that soon, but I'm sure batteries have serious problems right now.

        • by blindseer (891256)

          My power outlet works just fine without a hydrogen tank in my house.

          There are things in my house that use energy sources other than electricity. I have a natural gas furnace and water heater. I've heard of the mixing of hydrogen gas with natural gas to stretch out the natural gas while avoiding the hydrogen embrittlement to metal pipes that comes with using pure hydrogen.

          A electric car that I can just plug into the power outlet seems a lot more convenient to me then one into which I have to inject hydrogen.

          Then there is the use of a hydrogen/methane mix in natural gas cars. Honda already has one on the market. The advantage there is that the range of the Honda is about 300 miles and costs about the same a

    • by denzacar (181829)

      Where's that energy coming from? Milking invisible pink unicorns?

      Close.
      Solar, wind, waves, hydro and combinations of all those.

      Unless the problem is that someone would have to actually work a little before getting essentially free energy sellable to masses?

    • Thanks.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by JoeMerchant (803320)

      Where's that energy coming from? Milking invisible pink unicorns?

      The unicorns aren't pink, they're blue [doe.gov], and unfortunately they're rather large.

      Seriously, this (Al powder) isn't an energy generation solution, it's an energy distribution solution. Most (populated) areas have both water and oxygen in the air, so if you can get the water to this powder and get hydrogen back... that could be very interesting.

      If you look at the overall efficiency of the fossilized oil cycle, starting with solar input and running through geologic time as a major part of the refining pro

      • Seriously, this (Al powder) isn't an energy generation solution, it's an energy distribution solution. Most (populated) areas have both water and oxygen in the air, so if you can get the water to this powder and get hydrogen back... that could be very interesting.

        So, an energy distribution system that gives you, say, 1 kg of H2 for every 9 kg of aluminum (not counting the container, the piping, things like that). If you can ship in that much much aluminum, why not just ship in that much hydrogen instead?

  • by Bloater (12932) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @07:57AM (#27028891) Homepage Journal

    To use water and aluminium as energy storage. We already have a pretty good global aluminium infrastructure.

    If water could be combined with aluminium to produce hydrogen on demand, then you refuel by replacement of the aluminium oxide waste with fresh aluminium and refilling the water tank.

    Then you still need a better method to convert aluminium oxide to aluminium - but here's the great thing about this research. Better ways to convert in one direction usually lead to better ways to go the other way too (eg, microdots convert electricity to light better, but also the other way round too).

  • All methods by which man-made hydrogen is produced today use more "usable" energy than results in the hydrogen. What we need to do is use hard to use energy like solar, geotherm, or something else.

    *all* energy production comes from the conversion of hard to use energy into an easier to use form. Solar power is an inefficient means by which light is converted to electricity. Plants convert light very efficiently and produce sugar. We then use yeast to break that down into alcohol. Unfortunately that also pro

  • by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @10:44AM (#27029595)

    This is not an article about making Hydrogen cheaply or efficiently, it's an article about an unusual chemical reaction, one of whose byproducts is Hydrogen.

    You cant get something for nothing. For each Hydrogen atom let off, you have to spend an atom of Aluminum. Aluminum weighs 27 times as much as Hydrogen, so for every kilogram of Aluminum you burn up you get at most 38 grams of Hydrogen. Aluminum costs almost a dollar a kilo. That makes the Hydrogen cost at least $27 a Kilo. The market price for Hydrogen is around $2 a Kilo, so this process costs about 13 times too much.
     

  • Not news (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tweenk (1274968) on Sunday March 01, 2009 @11:24AM (#27029859)

    Come on. You can generate hydrogen by dumping aluminium foil in either sodium hydroxide (cheap plumbing cleaner) or in water containing minute amounts of HgCl2 acting as a catalyst. This is elementary and was known for decades. Those guys just found out that if they use insanely fine aluminium powder they don't need sodium hydroxide or mercuric chloride anymore. But this gets us nowhere, as we still need the aluminium, and making this insanely fine powder isn't free (both financially and energetically). The immediate practical value of this work in the field of energy storage is near zero. The only thing going for it is that the authors know how to generate interest.

    • He's right. As an approach to volume production of hydrogen, this sucks, because the aluminum is consumed in the reaction. Remember, hydrogen and oxygen are uphill energetically from water; you're going to have to put something in to get hydrogen out. One would like that "something" to be the minimum amount of heat or electricity required to dissociate the water molecules, rather than an expensive material you have to replace.

      The Slashdot story links to a blog, which links to a press release, which li

  • Hydrogen production was reported earlier from cutting aluminum underwater: Uehara, K., Takeshita, H., and Kotaka, H. (2002). Hydrogen gas generation in the wet cutting of aluminum and its alloys. Journal of Materials Processing Technology, 127:174-177. While it certainly is not an efficient way to generate hydrogen in mass quantities, if you already need to cut aluminum for some other purpose (e.g., construction or repair, especially underwater) you can recover some hydrogen as a small side benefit. The
  • This has the potential to be big but of course the valid questions are not mentioned, such as what are the inputs to get this hydrogen and does it scale. Still sounds rather Cold Fusiony...
  • Put some lye and aluminum foil in a big bowl of water. Once the aluminum is consumed and you have witnessed a whole bunch of hydrogen come off, don't put any more lye into the water, but do put some more aluminum foil into it. Watch it get consumed too as it produces more hydrogen. Repeat until you see how silly TFA is.

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