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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 Harik ( 4023 ) <Harik@chaos.ao.net> on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:39PM (#22578222)

    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:Need those (Score:1, Insightful)

    by magarity ( 164372 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:45PM (#22578318)
    Speaking of odds, what are the odds that if this turns out to be viable the inventors will have unfortunate accidents and the patents bought up from their estates by either Exxon or Shell?
  • Come on! (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:47PM (#22578350)
    Why post articles like this? It's just an advertisement for a non-existent technology. There are tons of crap like this out there, why single this one out?

    Let us know when someone actually develops something real and working, then it might be news.
  • Re:Need those (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bartab ( 233395 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:50PM (#22578420)
    Exactly as likely as you having an unfortunate accident, because you're a crazy conspiracy nutcase.
  • by rossz ( 67331 ) <`ogre' `at' `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.

  • Re:How long.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bartab ( 233395 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:54PM (#22578474)
    You're just simply... nuts.

    "Big oil" are energy companies. They really don't give a rats ass if they sell you oil or nuclear fusion. "You" arn't even their real customer, but rather the power plants are.
  • 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 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?
  • by orclevegam ( 940336 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:57PM (#22578540) Journal


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

    So instead of a tank of pressurized hydrogen gas you have a tank of distilled water in your car and it's broken down into hydrogen on demand. No need to store/transport/etc. hydrogen at all if this is really the case.
    Yes, I read it, but it seems you didn't comprehend it. You need energy to perform electrolysis, which in turn releases hydrogen. If the car is powered by hydrogen, and you propose extracting it on the go via electrolysis, where is the power for the electrolysis coming from? Unless you get more energy out of the hydrogen powered engine per unit of hydrogen, then it takes to extract that hydrogen via electrolysis, then it won't work, you have an energy deficit in the system. That was my point, but you totally missed it.
  • by tilandal ( 1004811 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:59PM (#22578576)
    Thats stupid. Why would you use energy to make hydrogen to make electricity in a fuel cell to run an electric motor when you could of just used that same energy to run the motor in the first place?
  • by rs79 ( 71822 ) <hostmaster@open-rsc.org> on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:00PM (#22578608) Homepage
    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 technically possible and even feasable right now?
  • by hackingbear ( 988354 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:05PM (#22578684)
    No to speak for any of those companies, but if this or other technologies are as good as they claimed to be and if Exxon/Shell/big-oil buy the technology, why would they shelf it in the basement of their lawyer's office? These are just for-profit companies. As such, they don't really care what they sell. If shits can power cars better/cheaper than gasoline, they will sell the shits because they have a competitive advantages compared to others in their business. Why would they pay the Saudi emirates if they can just monopolize the production of energy at home?
  • 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.
  • Re:Need those (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Sandbags ( 964742 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:20PM (#22578928) Journal
    I don't care if H2 is FREE to make. The general public will never be driving H2 cars around.

    There are many reasons BOTH competing H2 technologies can't work. Most of it boils down to safety (driving H2 bombs around town), logistics (how do you ship highly compressed H2 since it can't be pipelined), fuel cells might have good reliability, but if you crack it in a wreck, it's half the cost of the vehicle to replace, 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.

    We'll have full electric cars, air powered cars, and a full ethanol industry hopping long before they solve the safety, vehicle weight/efficieny/range problems, costs, and other very big negatives surrounding H2.

    the ONLY thing H2 has going for it it it burns 100% clean. So do air poewred cars and battery powered cars, and the energy used to fill the tank with all 3 can be just as clean, safer, cheaper, and less of a logistics challenge.
  • by treyb ( 9452 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:40PM (#22579238)
    Everyone seems to have missed the point. With efficient electrolysis, you can build the entire system into the vehicle. You'd have a closed system that cracks the water and stores the H2 in a tank. The fuel cell burns the H2, creating pure water that goes back into the tank. You'd "fill up" at home (or office, or where ever) by running the electrolysis off of grid power (or however you get it), removing the need for the gas station. You could even use the power from regenerative breaking to crack the water again (assuming you could do it fast enough), meaning you wouldn't need to lug around extra batteries or ultra-capacitors.

    Remember: you shouldn't think of hydrogen as a fuel, but rather as an energy storage mechanism (like a battery).
  • by hoggoth ( 414195 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:40PM (#22579246) Journal
    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 Unicorns won't replace Coal and Oil for a long time...
  • by pawstar ( 930281 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:42PM (#22579278)
    ... 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 and when parked. By having it onboard you gain the ability to "charge" your car anywhere where there is power. /patent pending + copyrighted + .... + ???? :-b
  • by superstick58 ( 809423 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:42PM (#22579282)
    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 energy may change, but Chevron, BP, Shell, etc. will be more than happy to go wherever the energy supply chain takes them. After all, if they are willing to follow it into dangerous places like Nigeria then of course they will be more than happy to set up a nice easy factory in the US to make fuel cells.
  • Re:Need those (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rrkap ( 634128 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:43PM (#22579304) Homepage
    Why would you kill someone if you're going to buy up the patents from their estates? It would likely be considerable cheaper to simply buy the patents. Besides, the oil companies don't care what kind of fuel they supply, only that you give them money to buy it. I'm sure that they would be happy to sell you hydrogen, biodiesel or ground up babies if there were a profit in it.
  • by hackingbear ( 988354 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:52PM (#22579474)

    First, they may just sell hydrogen instead of the device. But still, the current company execs and shareholders really only care about how much they make in near term (i.e their years in the company or before they profit from their stocks); why will they *really* care about the long term (many years later) profitability? If you can sell such a device at a price worth 10 years of gasoline usages and there are billions of buyers, why would you still flickering at the pump? You will make all the profits and go away. Same thing goes for pharmas, at least for popular diseases. If I could make a drug that actually cure diabetes, i would sell it at $1000 a pill, make all the money from each patient once and go away super-rich while all other diabetes drug makers go bankrupt.

    You must overestimate the integrity of those execs and shareholders.

    Besides, machines, like cars, will wear out and the demands are too large to be really filled up ever.

  • by cowscows ( 103644 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:54PM (#22579502) Journal
    The biggest issue with current electric cars is battery technology, or the lack thereof. You can't just replace a 15 gallon gas tank with a battery of the same size and end up with the same result. The amount of electricity required to drive an electric car a reasonable distance results in huge, very heavy, and expensive batteries. There are also potential issues concerning battery lifetime, environmental impacts of manufacturing/disposal, etc.

    So you basically end up with the question, how are we going to store all of that electricity in the car until it's needed. If batteries aren't a viable option, what other forms can we use? Hydrogen is attractive because it has a very high energy density, but it has its share of drawbacks as well. The article is about somebody who claims to be able to overcome some of those drawbacks via nanotechnology. I have no idea if his ideas are feasible.
  • Re:I'm confused (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @06:03PM (#22579642)
    All you have to do is close the loop and it becomes a decent energy storage system. put energy into the system and get hydrogen from water, use the hydrogen later to make energy and the exhaust is pure water again. Collect the exhaust and start all over.

    Basically, it's an electric car with a different sort of battery. Regenerative breaking in this case turns some of the water back into H2 rather than putting the electricity into a normal battery. Since hydrogen has much better energy density than standard batteries, if they can get the rest of the system small enough to support closing the loop, you can make a hydrogen battery that's pound for pound much better than eg a lead acid battery.
  • Re:Need those (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Sandbags ( 964742 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @06:04PM (#22579666) Journal
    1) I was referring to the "2 competing H2 technologies" not this on-demand system, i'll debuke that in a minute. 2) gasoline is not a volatile hig compression fuel like H2. Your gas tank leaks, you throw sand on it. Your H2 tank leaks, the repair shop needs to be evacuated or people get killed (think porpane leak). Also, at 4000PSI of pressure, you don't even neeed H2, when a gas at that pressure blows, it takes out everything that's not reinforced concrete within 200 feet. Add flamability to that and you're talking about the explosive force of nearly 10 pounds of TNT.

    Pipe water using our existing system? most cities are already at or beyond capacity of theirt systems today, let alone adding this load. Second, it's not clean enough. It's needs to be pure distilled water for this system to operate. this means an entire new water system, including on-site distillation, storage, filtering, and the expense and energy to make it possible. This is simply not feasable. We can build 100 new solar and wind plants and a superconducting electrical grid for less money and less hassle. Third, water is a limited resource! unless desalination comes a loooooong way, this idea doens't float (pun intended).

    The price of fuel cells wil come down, but it has a minimum price of about $15K per engine. Right now that's at over 200K once you factor out the governement subsidies. I get in a wreck, even a bad one, an air engine, electric motor, or ethanol cobustion (ICE or turbine) is easy to fix. Crack a fuel cell and you have to take half the car apart to get it out, and the whole damned thing requires replacement. btw: have you SEEN a fuel cell? They take up most of the trunk of large SUV's, turning a 7 seat vehicle into a 4 (or in some cases 2) seater.

    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. Second, H2 is not a liquid at that pressure like propane is. H2 only becomes liquid at rediculous pressure or extreme low temperuature. A propane tank of H2 at safe pressures would only take you about 5 miles. 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. At that pressure, a rupture could kill a hundred people, rip your house apart, or crack a bridge, just on vapor expansion laws alone. 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.

    H2 will never happen, except under extreme goverment subsidies. It;s a tactic to appease less inteligent environment nuts until a etter technology that both big oil and big politics can proffit from. Theyr'e fighting Ethanol because it's too simple (they can't controll who produces it, they can't corner the market).. At least with electric drives, big oil can become big solar, and they're happy to do it, they're just delaying until they can buy up the research firms and construction companies, and to pay off politicians in the meantime to prevent new power plants they won't own from being built. I'm OK with this. Let them own it... If I don't like their prices per kilawatt, I'll put solar panels in my back yard and sell my energy back to the grid at a proffit.
  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @06:07PM (#22579710) Journal
    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 far more fuel inefficient than running an electric motor on batteries charged by the power that otherwise would have been used to make the hydrogen. (And some REALLY GOOD batteries are just coming into production, too.) So it's not a good trade. In particular, it makes little sense to perform the electrolysis onboard as you drive: If you have the electricity, use an electric motor.

    For 2): Fuel cells are essentially half a storage battery and not subject to the carnot cycle tax. So using electricity to make hydrogen to power an onboard motor is just a way to split a storage battery into a "charging" and "discharging" part and leave the charging part behind. Unfortunately, a hydrogen-gas fuel cell requires mobile hydrogen gas storage, which is really problematic. (If you're going to do it that way, IMHO it's far better to use a vanadium redox system.) Onboard hydrogen gas generation? If you've already got the electric source on board it makes no sense at all to carry equipment to store the power by freeing hydrogen and more equipment to recover the power from the hydrogen - even if both steps were 100% efficient.

    So it sounds to me like a person with a solution looking for investors and hyping a nonsense application to convince them they'd be buying into a chunk of the automotive fuel supply and equipment market.
  • 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.
  • by fonik ( 776566 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @06:19PM (#22579940)
    Clean energy sources like electricity? In half of the US, "electric cars" should be renamed "coal-powered cars".
  • Re:Need those (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wximagery95 ( 993253 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @06:24PM (#22580038)
    I don't know. Shipping hydrogen probably isn't all the more dangerous than ethanol. Ehtanol is some nasty sh*t in large quantities. Far more dangerous than gasoline. Obviously you can't use water on gasoline or ethanol fires, you have to use foam. Well, the foam used on gasoline fires doesn't work on grain-based ethanol fires. The ethanol flame burns right through the foam and conitnues to burn. To put out an ethanol fire you need an alchol-resistant polymer foam which is very expensive. Not many firestations are equiped to handle this sort of thing and as E85 becomes more popular, larger amount of ethanol are going to be shipped long haul.

    Hydrogen on the other hand is very bouyant, disperses very quickly and won't puddle on the ground. If this article proves true and they can produce hydrogen that efficiently, shipping it is a moot point. Just produce the hydrogen on site and do away with the shipping all together.
  • Re:Need those (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Millenniumman ( 924859 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @07:06PM (#22580756)

    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...
    Gasoline and ethanol aren't nearly as flammable as hydrogen. A tank filled with them is not a "bomb" at all (though that is a bit excessive for hydrogen as well).

    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
    Water from existing pipes is not unlimited. A lot of areas are having a drought right now. Yes, the car would produce water, but it would put in the the air and not in the faucet.

    Also, at that point, you might as well use electric cars. Charging a battery is more efficient than splitting water, even with supermagicnanoparticles.

    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.
    Hydrogen would corrode a normal propane tank. I don't know if leaking can be dealt with, but it would be a huge problem if it can't. Imagine if you left your car running whenever it was parked.

  • by smellsofbikes ( 890263 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @07:24PM (#22580968) Journal
    While I agree with the sentiment of your question, I think the reality of a competitive market compels me to ask a related question: why would {Adobe, Norton, Microsoft, Apple} shelf {FrameMaker, Ghost, many other software packages} when they're for-profit companies?

    The answer is: it's more profitable to purchase your competition early than to compete with them, and once having purchased them, it's more profitable to continue what you're doing, without competition, than to invest money into developing something. That's what makes a monopoly emerge from a competitive market.
  • by kesuki ( 321456 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @08:23PM (#22581716) Journal
    the reason is simple. coal, and atomic power (and to a small extent, hydroelectric dams and windmill farms) are the power source for 'electricity' if 96% of the electric energy is converted to hydrogen you have a very serious problem for oil companies. because the oil platforms out to sea won't run dry for another 20-50 years, and the core of their business model is seeing that this energy is used.

    if too many people switch to hydrogen cars, then oil becomes worthless, because coal can be mined cheaper, etc.

    not to mention that wood can be burned as efficiently as coal, although at a slightly higher price, but environmentally speaking, parts of Wisconsin could become a 'bio renewable' energy source and then only the hydrogen has to be transported, or even the electricity to make the hydrogen gets transported.

    so this has a really big impact. it's easier and cheaper to make and transport electricity than it is to ship oil and gas, and if at the end of the line it's 97% efficient, then making hydrogen at the point of sale could be massively cheaper than the kind of distribution network needed to sell oil.

    i doubt hydrogen fuel cells will ever be truly viable, but hydrogen combustion isn't that hard to do with modern engine design either. it's so easy that gas ICEs can be converted to hydrogen ICEs for little cost (this is why over a million vehicles ran on woodgas in world war II, when oil supplies fell far short of demand.) shipping hydrogen around and storing it in mass quantities is more expensive than 'making it at the pump' from ordinary filtered water, so this technology may finally make a hydrogen economy viable, and thus render oil obsolete.

    and the biggest plus side is producing 'hot' water as the output exhaust, puts fresh water back into the freshwater cycle as humidity, that will eventually become rain, produced from cars then much of that humidity will wind up precipitating on land, as it does with forests. hydrogen combustion could restore part of the freshwater cycle that clearing forests for cropland has removed, so it's twice as good for the environment, since it produces less emissions and produces humidity. although in some regions it will be cheaper to ship hydrogen rather than produce it at the pump, and in some areas it may be necessary to desalinate water, or use 'waste water' from sewer systems.

    of course, oil can still be burned to make electricity, and with increased demand for electricity driven by a hydrogen economy they would likely sell a lot of oil for use in creating electricity, however this is sold much cheaper than gasoline and doesn't use the same refining process as gasoline (there is no need to 'crack' the chemicals to get shorter chains when you're burning oil for electricity, and not making gasoline) so the oil industry will loose many jobs, and the oil wells that are currently being tapped will wind up selling far below where they were expected to sell, causing oil exploration to basically stop completely, and eventually many generations from now bio-fuels will become the cheapest form of energy when fossil fuels run out.

  • by Calledor ( 859972 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @12:29AM (#22584190)
    You say that companies would sell the wonder widgets now and screw all for the future, but nothing in corporate history really supports. You're using the percieved fallacy that companies only care about the immediate revenue. That's very true if your name is "Middle-class-Bob" but when it comes to product they stick with the same thing for as long as possible and really only desire to kill competition. Them buying such a technology and hiding it or ruining/discrediting the people making it are far more likely to occur than them selling. Do you really need to look any further than your mp3 collection and the numerous RIAA articles to see how much industry leadership resists change? Speaking of long term, car companies, fast food, and wal-mart all started their market conquests with the idea to not have the best product, service, or technology, but rather to make sure there tech and product was the only one that mattered.

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