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Hydrogen economy closer?
Posted by: McQ on Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Look like a bit of a breakthrough at Purdue:

Researchers at Purdue University have further developed a technology that could represent a pollution-free energy source for a range of potential applications, from golf carts to submarines and cars to emergency portable generators.
The technology produces hydrogen by adding water to an alloy of aluminum and gallium. When water is added to the alloy, the aluminum splits water by attracting oxygen, liberating hydrogen in the process. The Purdue researchers are developing a method to create particles of the alloy that could be placed in a tank to react with water and produce hydrogen on demand.

The gallium is a critical component because it hinders the formation of an aluminum oxide skin normally created on aluminum's surface after bonding with oxygen, a process called oxidation. This skin usually acts as a barrier and prevents oxygen from reacting with aluminum. Reducing the skin's protective properties allows the reaction to continue until all of the aluminum is used to generate hydrogen, said Jerry Woodall, a distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue who invented the process.
The alloy is 80% aluminum and 20% gallium. The importance of this is it can produce hydrogen on demand thus eliminating the necessity to store and transport it.
The gallium component is inert, which means it can be recovered and reused.

"This is especially important because of the currently much higher cost of gallium compared with aluminum," Woodall said. "Because gallium can be recovered, this makes the process economically viable and more attractive for large-scale use. Also, since the gallium can be of low purity, the cost of impure gallium is ultimately expected to be many times lower than the high-purity gallium used in the electronics industry."

As the alloy reacts with water, the aluminum turns into aluminum oxide, also called alumina, which can be recycled back into aluminum. The recycled aluminum would be less expensive than mining the metal, making the technology more competitive with other forms of energy production, Woodall said.
"In the meantime, there are other promising potential markets, including lawn mowers and personal motor vehicles such as golf carts and wheelchairs," Woodall said. "The golf cart of the future, three or four years from now, will have an aluminum-gallium alloy. You will add water to generate hydrogen either for an internal combustion engine or to operate a fuel cell that recharges a battery. The battery will then power an electric motor to drive the golf cart."

Another application that is rapidly being developed is for emergency portable generators that will use hydrogen to run a small internal combustion engine. The generators are likely to be on the market within a year, Woodall said.

The technology also could make it possible to introduce a non-polluting way to idle diesel trucks. Truck drivers idle their engines to keep power flowing to appliances and the heating and air conditioning systems while they are making deliveries or parked, but such idling causes air pollution, which has prompted several states to restrict the practice.

The new hydrogen technology could solve the truck-idling dilemma.

"What we are proposing is that the truck would run on either hydrogen or diesel fuel," Woodall said. "While you are on the road you are using the diesel, but while the truck is idling, it's running on hydrogen."

The new hydrogen technology also would be well-suited for submarines because it does not emit toxic fumes and could be used in confined spaces without harming crew members, Woodall said.

"You could replace nuclear submarines with this technology," he said.

Other types of boats, including pleasure craft, also could be equipped with such a technology.

"One reason maritime applications are especially appealing is that you don't have to haul water," Woodall said.
If used on a large scale:
Aluminum is refined from the raw mineral bauxite, which also contains gallium. Producing aluminum from bauxite results in waste gallium.

"This technology is feasible for commercial use," Woodall said. "The waste alumina can be recycled back into aluminum, and low-cost gallium is available as a waste product from companies that produce aluminum from the raw mineral bauxite. Enough aluminum exists in the United States to produce 100 trillion kilowatt hours of energy. That's enough energy to meet all the U.S. electric needs for 35 years. If impure gallium can be made for less than $10 a pound and used in an onboard system, there are enough known gallium reserves to run 1 billion cars."

The researchers note in the paper that for the technology to be used to operate cars and trucks, a large-scale recycling program would be required to turn the alumina back into aluminum and to recover the gallium.
Hydrogen on demand. May be the trick that gets this alternative energy source going and going quickly.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Yay Purdue!!! That’s where my daughter went to college. Good to hear they’re working on this.
Written By: Teresa
Well, as always, the real question is where the energy comes from in the first place. This could displace other storage forms, but the aluminum thingy has to be created in the first place, and the laws of thermodynamics require just as much energy to be put in as will later be extracted.

Of course, if that shifts demand to electricity created from nuclear or coal plants instead of burning oil from the Middle East, I’m all for it.
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://
I’m still pretty skeptical. Unlike straight water electrolysis, with this process you need to refine the alumina back to aluminum. The way you do that is by high temperature electrolysis that gives you back pure aluminum and C02, but requires a fair amount of energy (averages around 15 kW*h/kg Al although a newer plants require a little less). That’s an added energy cost that these folks don’t seem to be talking about much.
Written By: Jeff the Baptist

I think we might have it here, folks... This is so huge, I can’t even begin to describe it...
Written By: Scott Jacobs
URL: http://
Gee lets see the exhaust would be water vapor, which is by pecentage the most prevalent green house gas on the planet. Ya makes sense to me.
Written By: McQ2
URL: http://
I’ve long wondered why hydrogen hasn’t been pushed as a way to power ships. Especially with regards to the Navy. And just think if aircraft carriers could also power their planes with hydrogen engines. Operating costs could potentially drop like a rock.
Written By: MZM
URL: http://
Gee lets see the exhaust would be water vapor, which is by pecentage the most prevalent green house gas on the planet. Ya makes sense to me.
Been thinking about that since you and I have talked about it at length concerning the other ways hydrogen has been discussed for use in powering cars and such.

In this particular scenario, since you don’t have to store and transport hydrogen, there’d probably be room and a way to hold the water vapor produced, cool it, condense it and then have water to recycle within the system.

I think Billy and Jeff may have pointed to the proverbial t*** in the punchbowl though. I will be interested to learn the amount of energy necessary to produce the materials.
Written By: McQ
Sounds very Rube Goldbergish, like a sub-compact car the size of a tractor-trailor rig that can get to the end of the driveway and back to the garage without exploding, but no further.

I’ve heard many of these scenarios over 30 years. They’re pitched to achieve the maximum amount of funding.

The secret to understanding this kind of research is that engineers and their laboratory cohorts can come up with anything, and usually do.

I edited and wrote, I don’t know, six or seven books on solar and alternative energy. This is pretty standard university research fare.

So I’m definitely from Missouri on this one.

Show me.
Written By: Martin McPhillips
Billy is onto it and I think the article skirts it a little. But if my Modern Marvels memory serves me correctly; aluminum processing uses a tremendous amount of electricity. I don’t know about the recycling process though.

Now, when they come up with a Hydrogen Fission Reactor to supply the power to refine the aluminum to make the alloy that runs the car, then we’ll have something
Written By: Eric Churchill
URL: http://
In addition to what Billy says, here, is the issue of the amount of heat given off when the freshly produced hydrogen is burned. Yes, I know that it’s probably the equivalent of a match being tossed in the Atlantic. An unlit match. But you know as well as I do the global warming Unser, latch on one particular aspect, and tell us we’re still killing the planet.

In all candor; useful? Certainly. It’ll be interesting to see how that technology develops. But no matter what the solution is, no matter how clean it is, not anticipate that the Enviro-nazis are going to sign on to it... because to do so eliminates their stranglehold on what other people do.
Written By: Bithead
And Gallium, what becomes of the gallium? IS gallium a carcinogen, is it a heavy metal, how do we prevetnt it from damaging the eco-system?

Mind you I don’t give a flying Sh*te but the Green-weenies will...because they arer for everything that is not today’s technology, but against any technology that will replace it...So I guess it’s fair to say they always hate today’s technology, whether it’s Internal Comubustion or Hydrogen.
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
And what is the number one most efficient greenhouse gas? Moreso than CO2 and even water vapor? Hydrogen gas. You base a whole economy on hydrogen and you’re going to be dumping tons of the stuff into the air every day as the result of the creation, use and waste of the stuff. You create it and some of it will escape (its the smallest atom; nothing can completely seal a chamber enough to keep it in). Accidents more so. Incomplete combustion of hydrogen will release the gas.

Face it. We’re all going to drown under the glaciers. Suck it.
Written By: mcgurk
Well, as always, the real question is where the energy comes from in the first place.
Even if the energy comes from coal topped nuclear plants (to get the benefits of very high Carnot efficiencies, these can hit 55%) I disagree. This isn’t the real question.

The real question is what is the mechanically available kw/lb, and what is the density of that system—the one that stores the metals, the water, the power producing cell or IC engine, and the any needed power conditioning/transmission? How safe is it? How many $/kwhr?

Those are the questions the answers to which determine if we’ll have a hydrogen economy from this in terms of vehicles.

And I can foresee mercury/aluminum hotrods if this works well, because almost nothing catalyzes aluminum corrosion like quicksilver.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
Written By: Tom Perkins
Also, you don’t need much mercury, certainly not 20% by weight. Just the slightest film does it, and it is easily recovered by distillation.

TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
Written By: Tom Perkins
As a Submarine Officer I would question the net power generation capabilities required not only to power a submarine but for maximum propulsion as well. I agree that stored chemical energy may prove to be more efficient, but for the same reason that we still use chemical rockets vice electric motors to get into space, there are significant net power requirements inherant to submerged propulsion.
Written By: Matt Rohweder
URL: http://
Yeah, the bit about replacing nuclear on submarines is drivel. If this thing is even practical it might be worth replacing the diesels still used in some sub fleets. But the nukes? No. Using this aluminum to alumina process to generate hydrogen means that you still need an oxygen source. Meaning you have to regularly surface to breathe. The whole point of nukes is that you never have to come up for air or fuel.
Written By: Jeff the Baptist
Basically, they’re going to use electricity (generated by whatever method) to make aluminum.

This tech, then, will compete with fuel cells; which is the most effective in any app will determine what is used. If one turns out to be much better or simply better in, say, 80% of apps, it will "win", except for very small niche (read: very expensive) situations. If they are somewhat near 50-50, we’ll probably see both. I use "effective" to mean things like efficiency, peak power out, thermal management, and use of existing infrastructure, among others I can’t think of :-Q.

Again, it doesn’t solve the "creation" problem; both of these are, at heart, simply storage technologies. We’re still going to need nukes, fusion, solar satellites, or whatever.

Something else may win, as well, like superduper caps.
Written By: bud
URL: http://
I think this development is way cool. I blog over at so I am always really excited to see big developments like this and to see so many other people psyched about hydrogen!
Written By: Ethan
Um, JeffTheBaptist re
’Using this aluminum to alumina process to generate hydrogen means that you still need an oxygen source. Meaning you have to regularly surface to breathe. The whole point of nukes is that you never have to come up for air or fuel.’

The oxygen source is the water. The oxygen is separated from the hydrogen.
Written By: I’mAConservativeForAltFuels
URL: http://
I’mAConservativeForAltfuels, the oxygen is taken up by the very reactive, bare, continuously catalyzed surface of the aluminum to combine to be unusable (until rerefined) aluminum oxide. There is no liberated oxygen for immediate recombustion.

This is an chemical fuel energy storage media, and the fuel must be re-refined after one use.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
Written By: Tom Perkins
Why is this clever again? Why not just burn thermite? Iron vs gallium and iron is cheap as dirt. In fact, while you would still have to recycle the Al (which is disgustingly endothermic), the iron goes in as rust and comes out pure. Rust is cheaper than dirt.

Silly alternative-energy enthusiasts, gallium is for chips!

OMG I need a drink. Oh, here’s some hydrogen! (combined with oxygen) Glug glug sorrows aren’t drowning...darn this dihydrogen monoxide! Glug glug...still no good.

NYCers or WABC-770AM listeners may know: Bob Grant is back, 8-10pm. And perfect timing too:

It’s sick out there and getting sicker.

OK, OK. Two words for you: Nuclear F***ing Power! (calling Denis Leary) Until/unless we get power satellites going. Meanwhile, more coal till people see sense on nukes. You want to turn electricity into fuel, baby? Use nukes to run the oil shale and tar sands operations. I got yer fuel right here!

Oh, global warming? Fine, sure whatever. Two more words: Carbon F***ing Sequestration. Or if you don’t like big words:

Plant F***ing Trees


Bury the S***
Subduction F***ing Zones (if you don’t think you might want it back)
Carbon F***ing Composites

and in general:

Some F***ing Creativity
Written By: Nichevo
URL: http://

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