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Power Hardware

Silicon Nanoparticles Could Lead To On-Demand Hydrogen Generation 163

cylonlover writes "Researchers at the University of Buffalo have created spherical silicon nanoparticles they claim could lead to hydrogen generation on demand becoming a 'just add water' affair. When the particles are combined with water, they rapidly form hydrogen and silicic acid, a nontoxic byproduct, in a reaction that requires no light, heat or electricity. In experiments, the hydrogen produced was shown to be relatively pure by successfully being used to power a small fan via a small fuel cell."
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Silicon Nanoparticles Could Lead To On-Demand Hydrogen Generation

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  • by Stirling Newberry ( 848268 ) on Friday January 25, 2013 @09:13AM (#42689703) Homepage Journal
    How much energy to create the silicon nanoparticles.
  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <jcr.mac@com> on Friday January 25, 2013 @09:15AM (#42689719) Journal

    If it's less than the energy used to make conventional, disposable batteries of equivalent power, it's a win. Even if it's more costly than that in energy terms, it could still be a win from a weight to power ratio standpoint.


  • by snarkh ( 118018 ) on Friday January 25, 2013 @09:19AM (#42689747)

    Even if it is neither of those it can still be a win if it is non-toxic or easy to dispose of.

  • by SJHillman ( 1966756 ) on Friday January 25, 2013 @09:24AM (#42689787)

    I'm hoping this doesn't turn into another "butbutbut but it still takes more energy to make than it gives back!" argument. The key here is making the stored energy portable. Gasoline takes a lot more energy to drill, transport and refine than it gives back, but the end product is very portable so the premium is worth it compared to stuff like coal or natural gas that (presumably, I don't really know) takes less effort to get to the end product. However, coal is pretty impractical for portable applications like cars, lawn mowers or snowmobiles.

    Water, on the other hand, has every advantage of gas (liquid can be pumped, etc) with additional advantages such as being much more renewable, much greater availability, much easier to get to and not being explosive if you decide to smoke while filling up. The only problem is that we haven't found a way to convert water into hydrogen fuel (which cannot be as easily stored or transported as water) at the point of use - either the pump or, better yet, whatever needs the fuel. If silicon nanoparticles can do that and you only need to swap in a new silicon nanoparticle cartridge every few thousand miles then it's well worth the extra energy to create them in the first place.

  • by Stirling Newberry ( 848268 ) on Friday January 25, 2013 @09:36AM (#42689853) Homepage Journal
    Both this question and the next one roll into what is called the "Life Cycle Analysis" the net output per unit input.

    Remember, there is energy extraction, and energy packaging. Petroleum is a huge win, because it is both - refining is relatively cheap, and it packages the result. This is not energy extraction - there is a large input, but it makes a convenient fuel cell package that gets around the problem of storing hydrogen. Since hydrogen is very chemically reactive, it's a big problem in having a hydrogen based energy chain.

    The input cost is essential, especially the theoretical efficiency, against other forms of energy storage. This would include how stable the nano-particles are, because water is ubiquitous.

    However it could be great for renewables, because the onsite wind farm or what have you, could be used to generate the silnaparts and this stores them. It could also be good for nuclear power, which runs continuously, and thus reduce the need for peak capacity, which is heavily carbon dominated. Even if not very efficient it could significantly reduce carbon footprint, because there would be no concern about the major problems of current bulk energy storage: gravity is environmentally destructive, and batteries have rather low cycle limits.

  • by Stirling Newberry ( 848268 ) on Friday January 25, 2013 @09:37AM (#42689863) Homepage Journal
    Theoretical efficiency could be a great deal lower. We are about as good at producing nano anything as Assyrians were at producing steel.
  • 10nm particles... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BLKMGK ( 34057 ) <> on Friday January 25, 2013 @09:38AM (#42689871) Homepage Journal

    What's the health impact of these getting into the ecosystem? Pass right thru a human? Cause serious disease? What happens when it hits the water IN a human? If this becomes in any way widespread these are going to be issues.

    What's left after the reaction? Must the water be pure or can we produce power from dirty water and do what with what's left? Could this be used to clean dirty water by simply using the water for power? Is oxygen also produced from this - I'd think so right since water is H2O. Are the particles completely consumed in the reaction? No reuse? How much water is used in the manufacturing process to create these particles? What are the waste byproducts for the process of creating these particles?

  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <jcr.mac@com> on Friday January 25, 2013 @10:25AM (#42690271) Journal

    I don't think you have a grasp of the scale of the earth's atmosphere. This might be an issue for people aboard a space station, but on earth it's insignificant.


  • by daem0n1x ( 748565 ) on Friday January 25, 2013 @11:12AM (#42690791)
    You're right, because internal combustion engines don't spend oxygen!
  • by ElectricTurtle ( 1171201 ) on Friday January 25, 2013 @01:28PM (#42692585)
    Why aren't you the Secretary of the Dept. of Energy? I can't understand how a Nobel laureate physicist is running things and seems to be in complete denial about the practical aspects of energy policy. He seems to think we can power the world on puppies and raibows, and it will only cost a billion times more, but everything will work out in the end in magical fantasy land.

I owe the public nothing. -- J.P. Morgan