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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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  • 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?
  • by Zebraheaded ( 1229302 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:46PM (#22578336)

    "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.
  • 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:Come on! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by orclevegam ( 940336 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:51PM (#22578434) Journal

    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.
    TFA says it is working, and at 85% efficiency. They speculate that by 2010 they could get up to 96% efficiency. Also TFA says they partnered with one of the major battery manufacturers and will be releasing a product later this year that uses their technology.
  • by techpawn ( 969834 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:59PM (#22578584) Journal

    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 KublaiKhan ( 522918 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:09PM (#22578764) Homepage Journal
    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 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.
  • ! 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.
  • 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 magarity ( 164372 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:25PM (#22579002)
    why would they shelf it in the basement of their lawyer's office?
    The problem is once you buy this widget to make hydrogen to power your car, you don't need to buy anything ever again except some power to run it. Bulk oil/gasoline sales to the power plant has nowhere near the margin of retail sales for cars. What would the drug companies try to do to someone who invented a miracle pill that made people immune to every possible disease and disorder forever?
  • by Sandbags ( 964742 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:29PM (#22579070) Journal
    He's right. Why waste the energy to carry the electrolysis system, the water, the tank, and all the expensive and complex equipment associated with it, not to mention the fuel cell and all, when you could just attatch the batteries directly to the motors and put in a bigger battery.

    It's all well and good that this may be possible, but noone's going to buy a car that weighs 500 lbs more, costs 50% more, is the size of a ford explorer but seats only 2, and requires perfectly pure (distilled) water to run on when they can have a Chevy Volt. ...besides, granted the water, assuming we can get as much as we need, purified, and distributed this way (we already have enough of a shortage of that), the cathodes require routine replacement, something the article fails to clarify. these are expensive, have to be mined, recycled, stored, and it's not easy to echange them. I did not read the article, but my impression is this is a similar technology to using aluminum to release H2 from water using applied energy. (something /. covered a few months ago.)
  • Re:Need those (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bryansix ( 761547 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:54PM (#22579498) Homepage

    I don't care if H2 is FREE to make. The general public will never be driving H2 cars around.
    You sound so sure so let's look at your statements

    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.
    Wow, just wow. You know what else is dangerous to drive around with? Yep, a tank full of gasoline. I have driven a Hydrogen powered card. Have you? The logistics is the simplist to figure out. First off you don't pipe it, you make it at the refuling station from water. Next, if the fuel cell is half the price of the car now so what. It will come down, plus most cars in wrecks nowadays get totaled anyways so big whoop.

    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.
    Like I said I drove a Hydrogen Car. Honda released the FCX Clarity in Southern California. It's on the road already. All the major manufacturers have working prototype vehicles some using Hydroden Hybrid technology.

    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.
    Right but the point of using Hydrogen is for range and Hydrogen will become cheaper. Also, the Hydrogen doesn't burn in a fuel cell.
  • by PagosaSam ( 884523 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:57PM (#22579550)
    Don't forget, the byproduct of the fuel cell is distilled water.

    Just pour it back in the electolyzer. Or put the electrolyzer in the car and plug it in at night. Gas and no water by morning.

  • Simple (Score:4, Interesting)

    by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @06:06PM (#22579684) Homepage Journal
    last question first:

    "What would the drug companies try to do to someone who invented a miracle pill that made people immune to every possible disease and disorder forever?"

    Sell it. Do you think the current C*0s, and board give a rats ass about 10 years down the line when they can make a billion or 3 right now?

    How many companies sold key manufacturing technolgies to overseas buyers in exchange for a large chuck of cash now? A hell of a lot, that's who.

    So, you own this magic widget. You can sell it for 1000 dollars 100's of millions of dollars. cha-ching, YOu RIGHT NOW make huge cash in your pocket. I don't think there so altruistic as to think "I could put a billion in my account, but we better not so some guy I don't know can makes some money in 5 years after I have left"

    Not to mention the 15,000,000 new cars are bought in the US every year, and if you owned this you would be getting royalties from each of those cars for 20 years. So the company will still get some money, but the people making the decisions now get a hell of a lot of money.

  • 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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @06:16PM (#22579900)
    Hydrogen cars really have nothing going for them. You can read the all the gruelling details here [daughtersoftiresias.org], but basically, li-ion batteries are about 99.9% efficient, while fuel cells are usually 40-50%. The tank to wheel efficiency of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is ~35-40%. 85% electrolysis efficiency is nothing new; that's what big steam reformers get, although it would be new for small "kit" systems. Then there's transmission losses for getting the power to the elecytrolyser (~93% efficient) and power plant losses (~35% efficient for existing systems, 45%+ for next-generation). Put it all together and hydrogen is notably *worse* for the environment than gasoline, while electric cars are better for it. And they almost have the range of hydrogen cars, automotive li-ions (as opposed to laptop li-ions) -- nanophosphates, titanates, spinels, and so on -- are far safer than hydrogen (for many, many reasons). And they can recharge as fast as you can feed them juice to boot, and have almost the range of the best hydrogen cars, with no need for platinum at all, with next-gen batteries vastly outranging hydrogen. And on, and on. Hydrogen cars are a dead-end, environmentally destructive technology.
  • Re:Need those (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bryansix ( 761547 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @07:07PM (#22580768) Homepage
    The highly pressurized tanks are actually MORE crash resistant.
    http://archives.cnn.com/2001/TECH/science/03/16/hydrogen.cars/ [cnn.com]
  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @08:05PM (#22581504) Journal

    The problem is once you buy this widget to make hydrogen to power your car, you don't need to buy anything ever again except some power to run it. Bulk oil/gasoline sales to the power plant has nowhere near the margin of retail sales for cars.
    That logic goes double for solar panels. Once you've bought 'em you don't even need to buy electricity from the grid (some of which also puts bucks into oil companys' pockets). So why did ARCO spend their investors' money like water to develop practical solar panels and become for a while the biggest manufacturer of them for consumers? (The division has since been sold to BP and rebranded, and has to compete with the likes of Siemens and others, but last I looked was still a major player in that market.)

    Answer: They're not an OIL company, they're an ENERGY company. They understand this. If something else displaces oil they don't want it to displace THEM. Instead they want a piece of the new thing, too. They're just as happy to invest in developing and manufacturing solar panels and pocket some money when you buy them (or to run solar farms and sell electricity) as they are to invest it in exploring for oil and taking a cut when you buy that (while passing on the bulk to the people sitting on the land over the oil.) And meanwhile it gives them a power source to run some of their own remote equipment. B-)

    There's a lot of money in oil. But there's little margin. Virtually all of it goes to pay for the crude feedstock and the infrastructure to extract, refine, and ship it. (That's OK. Like groceries, oil goes from purchased raw material to sold product in a short time. So the company's money gets cycled through the buy/refine/sell process several times a year, making a small profit margin add up to a good rate of return on investment.)

    As with solar panels, energy companies have more incentive to develop new processes than to buy and sit on them. Because they won't be the ONLY processes to achieve results. So if company A buys process a to develop product whiz-bang, then sits on it, company B eats their lunch when it buys and develops process b and owns the market as whiz-bang displaces refined oil.
  • by Timbotronic ( 717458 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @09:56PM (#22582772)

    Does anyone know if there is any potential to use a chemical process to harness sunlight to disassociate water?
    You mean like this [technologyreview.com]?
  • by Thing 1 ( 178996 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @01:06AM (#22584428) Journal

    There's a lot of money in oil. But there's little margin.

    For the retailer, perhaps; a friend owns a gas station and told me they make 1-3 cents per gallon. That's a razor-thin margin of 0.3% to 1%, at current prices.

    However, there's a ton of margin for the oil companies. Just look at their record profits for 2007 to tell the real story: yes, the price is going up due to conflicts and reduction in supply and other factors; but their profitability tells a different story, and profits tend to tell a real story (except in unsustainable cases like Enron).

    I think eliminating subsidies to the oil companies is a smart move; I read today that the House is passing it, and Democrats are trying to avoid a filibuster in the senate. Only for the top 5 oil companies, though; I'd rather see all oil subsidies eliminated, in favor of "renewable energy" subsidies (it's not really renewable, the sun will burn out someday and take the Earth with it we recently re-learned, but it's "essentially renewable").

  • Re:Need those (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Sandbags ( 964742 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @01:49PM (#22590194) Journal
    I don't argue your points on Ethanol, at least not Ethanol from crops. Enter Cellulosic ethanol production. We can make ethanol from all sorts of crop waste, wood pulp, and many other forms of plants that can grow where food can not. Switchgrass is an option, but not the best one. Kudzuu in some areas would be a great option, certain weeds in others. A massive plant is under construction in Georgia to be operating later this year using this process for wood waste.

    Many will surely argue that we'll be cutting down forrests to plant ethanol. Well, sort-of. We'll be PLANTING forrests to cut down, just the same way the forrestry industry has been doing it for 100 years. every tree we cut needs to be replaced. Trees are not the best option, but we have to start somewhere, and there's lots of wood waste to use (many industries have been created to handle the problem of what to do with all the waste. As we move towards a paperless industry, eliminate plywood in favor of polymer materials, and other options, we'll have pleanty of trees to use without cutting down any rain forests...

    Gasoline fumes may be explosive, but only when confined. H2 fumes in similar densitiy (ambient gasses from slow leaks) are also not really an issue as it's so much lighter than air it can easily be vented. The problem is fast leaks (blown seals, improperly handled containers, etc). Tousands of cubic feet of H2 can leak out very quickly. As someone was kind enough to pooint out, H2 is also stored in liquid form only at 230 below zeor or so, and vapor expansion drops that even further, causing other alarming issues (imagine your garrage dropping to an ambient temp of about -200 degrees inside of 60 seconds with a fast leak, and just pray there's not a spark to light the gas in that density).

    Cold liquid? sure, it can be efficient, low pressure, but keeping it at 230 below zero? how do you plan to do that, again, without a massive (several inch thick) insulating tank, compressors, and more.

    Solar has a way to go, but it is viable. Concentrator solar farms take a lot of land, but we have pleanty of desert available... The efficiency may only be at 20% (best available panels), but thin film nano plates are only a few years from sale, and more than double the efficiecy. Regardless, it's free unlimited energy. Wind has issues with where we can place farms on land, but over water and across mountain ranges, that's easy. europe is putting up some 400+ wind generators on ocean moorings about 1 mile off coast. Superconducting electrical lines (existing today) pipe the energy anywhere we want. All we need to do is build the grid properly (a expensive, yet simple engineering feat) and some way to store overproduced daytime energy for use at night (using the energy to pump water uphill into lakes is one idea, thousands of smaller regional water towers with generators and underground tanks may be a better one, pumping from one to the other as energy is needed/overproduced may work better.)

    We also have geothermal options, ocean current power, submerged in-line river generators (think dam generator without the dam), and ocean current generators to play with. We can make the energy anywhere we can, and pipe it where needed with little real difficulty.

    We do pump distilled gasoline all around, but we can't turn that system off just yet, nor can our existing water system handle the load, so we need a whole new system built to move the water around. That's going to cost more than the electric grid, I promise...
  • Re:Need those (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Sandbags ( 964742 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @02:14PM (#22590518) Journal
    I'm not concerned with slow leaks from the H2 that passes through the tanks naturally, that dispurses quick. I'm talking about a REAL leak, due to a bad seal or tank rupture. Even the tiniest imperfection could leak out massive volumes of H2 that are not going to be cleared by anything less than powered emergency ventalation. A repair man that forgets to follow every safty step could release a few litres of -230 degree H2 liquid into a shop (where there's likely welding or other sparks present) and this liquid explosively expands, fills all space in the shop, and contacts the spark. Boom. Goodbye shop, all inhabitants, and possible a bunch of people nearby. this WILL happen. People are careless and stupid. Propane tanks blow up all the time. H2 will just be mode deadly when it does.

    Don't believe me how powerful this is? Do this for me: Go buy a small container of H2 from a local container store (I don't know how to do this, but my science proffs in college could get H2 anytime they wanted). Now, take a milk jug, a large cork with a hole in it, and a glass tube with a tapered end. Cut the bottom completely off the milk jug. put the tube in the hole in the cork and cap the jar with it (mare sure it's a tight fit). Place tape over the small remaining hole to prevent gas leaking out.

    Now, mount the apparatus tube side up (open bottom of jug pointing at floor) from a clamp on a pole (so it will stay that way without you holding it, trust me, you don't want to be holding it!). You should in essence now have a big bowl, suspended upside down, with a small hole in the top. Open the valve on your H2 container and allow the gas to rise up into the bowl (since it's lighter than air, it will fill it and stay there).

    Now, take the tape off the tube so that the H2 will start to rise through it. Light the escaping gas with a match (I suggest from as much distance as you can give it to be safe, a match held from a 3-6 foot long handle or longer, just in case this goes off before expected).

    Now, what you will have is a small flame coming out of the glass tube. This flame operates like a torch because the vapor pressure from the H2 trying to go up is more than the air tring to go down and gas only flows one way. You should have a very feint blue flame here. This may burn for 15-90 seconds depending on how well the milk jug got filled, and how small your tube is.

    After a minute or so, the H2 remaining in the milk jug will start to lessen, and air pressure above and below the tank will eventually equallize, allowing the flame to go down the tube and contact the remaning, ambient room pressure gas in the milk jug. BOOM!

    trust me: If you do this indoors, say in a large classroom lab in a school, you'll have security personell and panicked people running from all directions, since this small amount of H2 gas, trapped in a gallon of airspace at static room pressure will generate a fireball that will shake the windows and ring eardrumbs.

    Immagine now 3,000 times this much H2 in an underground parking area that has just rapidly escaped a leaking car's tank....

    I can also image far darker options: Imagine the gree an arab suicide bomber will get when he's handed the keys from a Hertz employee to a portable H2 bomb for his $35 a day plus $300 credit hold... All he needs is a commonly available industrial shaped charge (from a construction yard) and he can take out a bridge or building. If he's really good, he can make some C4 himself from stuff at the grocery store.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 28, 2008 @03:08PM (#22591306)
    Because batteries that will give you conventional car like performance are not ready for mass production (too expensive, unproven). They age, losing performance over time, eventually die and then become a toxic waste problem.

    Because you can store energy,long term ( > 5 days ), in hydrogen much more cheaply than you can

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