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Power Transportation

Nanoparticles Could Make Hydrogen Cheaper Than Gasoline 442

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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  • 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.

  • 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 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 hardburn ( 141468 ) <hardburn&wumpus-cave,net> on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:49PM (#22578392)

    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 []), the hydrogen economy might actually have a future.

  • 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 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 [] 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.

  • 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.
  • by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:23PM (#22578956) Journal

    Adjusting for rising gasoline prices, QuantumSphere projects that performing electrolysis at home to power hydrogen fuel cells will then be less expensive than burning fossil fuels.
    It'll be cheaper to create hydrogen, at home, using grid power, instead of buying gas.

    I wonder if they include the costs to get the hydrogen out of their machine and into your car...
  • Re:I'm confused (Score:3, Informative)

    by skywire ( 469351 ) * on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:27PM (#22579028)
    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 the electrolysis, which is silly.
  • Re:Need those (Score:5, Informative)

    by ArcherB ( 796902 ) * on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:30PM (#22579092) Journal

    There are many reasons BOTH competing H2 technologies can't work. Most of it boils down to safety (driving H2 bombs around town)...
    As opposed to driving gasoline or alcohol bombs around town...

    logistics (how do you ship highly compressed H2 since it can't be pipelined),
    They ship water to the gas stations via existing pipes and convert it to hydrogen on site expelling oxygen as a byproduct

    fuel cells might have good reliability, but if you crack it in a wreck, it's half the cost of the vehicle to replace,
    Price should come down as production increases.

    the only safe ways to store H2 gas (metal infusion) weigh too much, take 8 hours to refuel, and have less than 200 mile range.
    Why not just store it in the same tank I store propane gas in? Sure it will slowly leak, but how long will it take to leak out enough to be a problem? Besides, slowly leaking tanks is a good thing for producers.

    However, I do see the danger that parking a car in an enclosed space for any length of time can slowly turn your garage into a bomb.
  • 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.
  • Not Quite... (Score:3, Informative)

    by cnaumann ( 466328 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @07:04PM (#22580740)

    not only is parking a leaky tank in a garage a bad idea, so is any underground parking lot, dense parking area with low wind, or other places.
    I would rather face a hydrogen leak than a gasoline leak anyday. Hydrogen is much lighter than air and will dissipate quickly. It does not pool in low places like gas. At normal pressure, it does not have that much energy density. Carbon Monoxide from gas engines would be a much bigger problem in underground parking areas.

    Second, H2 is not a liquid at that pressure like propane is. H2 only becomes liquid at rediculous pressure or extreme low temperuature.
    Quick physics lesson: Hydrogen's critical temperature is -240C (33K). Above this temperature, hydrogen CANNOT be made liquid, regardless of the pressure. Once you are below the critical temperature, you don't really need much pressure to keep it liquid.

    A propane tank of H2 at safe pressures would only take you about 5 miles
    5 miles would be optimistic from a 5 gal propane tank at 100psi.

    To pressurize directly to liquid and store it without 70 degree below zero refrigeration would be a massive tank, several inches thick, and still only have enough storage for about 200 miles.
    Again, you CANNOT "pressurize" hydrogen to a liquid above 33K. "70 degree below zeor" is meaningless. You wouold never need a tank "several inches thick" under any condition, even high pressure storage. And 200 hundred miles is not a bad range.

    At that pressure, a rupture could kill a hundred people, rip your house apart, or crack a bridge, just on vapor expansion laws alone.
    But probably wouldn't. Ruptured high pressure tanks are no fun, but they are not exactly bombs either. You tend to get a very directional blast from a ruptured high pressure tank.

    Oh yea, compressing H2 to that pressure has less than 8% efficiency. We can make it at 96%, but loose most of that transporting it.
    I have no clue where you are getting these numbers. Nor do they really matter.

    I agree with your overall conclusion that hydrogen cars are probably not going to happen, ever. Hydrogen is difficult to make, difficult to transport, difficult to dispense, difficult to store on vehicle, and difficult to utilize. We have not really solved any of these issues. And as you said, the only real advantage is that it burns clean (sort of, if you burn it in an ICE you will likely still have NOx issues).

  • Re:Need those (Score:5, Informative)

    by ivan256 ( 17499 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @07:23PM (#22580950)
    There are plenty of problems with hydrogen powered vehicles, but you really aren't hitting on them. Safety isn't the issue.

    You talk about propane leaks, but propane is heavier than air and hydrogen is lighter. You aren't likely to asphyxiate from a hydrogen leak. It's not likely to accumulate in a low space and cause an explosion. Tank bursts are typically directional, and the force can be dampened; it's not like a bomb going off..

    Other responders have already pointed out the inaccuracies with your pressure analysis.

    You talk about the expense of distilling water, or piping distilled water around and neglect the fact that we power our vehicles with truck delivered distilled product right now. And that product is flammable during trucking and distillation.

    Garages? Gasoline fumes are very explosive. That's why cars have one-way venting systems on their tanks, and boats have fume alarms. Yet we don't have gas stations and garages blowing up all the time, because we've engineered our way out of the problem.

    Your alternatives are just as poorly thought out... Ethanol sounds great, but causing grain to be priced as energy won't work. There will be wars and famine (we're already well on the way in the latter department) before ethanol becomes our primary fuel. Photovoltaics are promising, but just plain not ready. They require a breakthrough large enough that we can't accurately predict how far away practicality is. You didn't mention wind, but others in the thread have... It has promise, but geographical and political concerns will keep it as a niche solution. Neither wind nor solar are transmission solutions either. They're just production. So how do you get the solar or wind power to your car anyway?
  • Re:Article Summary (Score:3, Informative)

    by DRJlaw ( 946416 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @07:29PM (#22581028)
    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 -- recognizing that excess energy conducted through the cell is ending up as waste heat somewhere or other.

    The nanoparticles provide a good catalyst with a very high catalytic surface area, which apparently improves upon a excellent catalyst having a good surface area. Probably more to the point, the nanomaterials are presumptively much cheaper than the excellent catalyst (platinum, currently at >$2100/oz).
  • Re:Need those (Score:5, Informative)

    by MythoBeast ( 54294 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @07:34PM (#22581092) Homepage Journal
    Your information about H2 technologies is amazingly flawed. They're not made out of metal, they're made out of graphite composite. They can just about drop those things out of passing airliners without cracking them, and they don't have to be "several inches thick".

    Pipe water using our existing system? most cities are already at or beyond capacity of their systems today, let alone adding this load.

    You're obviously not grasping the scales involved here. The US uses somewhere on the order of 150 billion gallons of gasoline each year []. We use three times that much water every DAY []. I think that the system can handle it. Purification isn't nearly the problem you suggest it is. Existing filtration systems would be more than adequate to supply water to your typical hydrolysis system.

    not only is parking a leaky tank in a garage a bad idea, so is any underground parking lot, dense parking area with low wind, or other places

    This is amazingly poorly thought out. It's based on gasses that are about the same density as air. Hydrogen is much less dense than air (think twice as boyant as Helium), and doesn't require anything resembling a wind to disperse upwards. This stuff seeps through solid metal, you think a parking garage ceiling is going to stop it?

    The entire logic of your argument is based on bad science and the idea that things will never improve. I don't buy it.
  • by Neuticle ( 255200 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @12:51AM (#22584334) Homepage
    Lubricants can be done effectively without oil these days, most of the companies that sell motor oil provide at least one line of synthetic oil.

    You misunderstand the meaning of "synthetic" oils. They are synthetic in that they are lab-created from stock ingredients to specific and precise formulations, rather than refined directly from crude oil as in a "traditional" oil. That said, the base stock chemicals still come from petroleum, such as an alkene, an ester, or the newer gas-to-liquid where a light-chain gas fraction is separated, hydrated and catalyticaly converted into a desired liquid.

    The advantages of synthetic oils are that you can pretty much completely eliminate undesirable compounds, and you can precisely tailor chemical ratios to achieve a desired behavior. Neither of those are possible/feasible with distillation, since a "bad" compound might have a boiling point within a hair-fraction of a degree of something "good", and a lot of different "good-for-different-purposes" chemicals have very close boiling points as well.

    You are right about plastics being relatively easy to make from non-petroleum carbon sources -IIRC the first plastic was made from cellulose- but there are many types of plastic that can't be made with something that simple/natural, and don't even get me started on the problems of using corn for bio-fuels and carbon stock. There are better plants, but that's what you get for letting Iowa choose the presidential candidates.

Things are not as simple as they seems at first. - Edward Thorp