Making hydrogen fuel is now easier than nuking a tv dinner

By Ian Lang, National Monitor | December 09, 2013

Making hydrogen fuel is now easier than nuking a tv dinner

A new recipe for hydrogen could have huge implications for fuel sources.

Hydrogen is the fuel that propels rockets and energizes battery-like fuel cells. It’s even been tested in cars, though the problem has always been that it isn’t the easiest thing to produce. Until now, that is. Scientists in Lyon, France have discovered a quick-cook recipe for copious volumes of hydrogen (H2).

Muriel Andreani, Isabelle Daniel, and Marion Pollet-Villard of University Claude Bernard Lyon 1 discovered the quick recipe for producing hydrogen:

In a microscopic high-pressure cooker called a diamond anvil cell (within a tiny space about as wide as a pencil lead), combine ingredients: aluminum oxide, water, and the mineral olivine.  Set at 200 to 300 degrees Celsius and 2 kilobars pressure — comparable to conditions found at twice the depth of the deepest ocean.  Cook for 24 hours. In chemical engineering terms, that’s the work equivalent of unwrapping a gas station burrito.

Dr. Daniel explains that when water meets the ubiquitous mineral olivine under pressure, the rock reacts with oxygen (O) atoms from the H2O, transforming olivine into another mineral, serpentine — characterized by a scaly, green-brown surface appearance like snake skin. The process also leaves hydrogen (H2) molecules divorced from their marriage with oxygen atoms in water.

The breakthrough suggests a better way of producing the hydrogen that propels rockets and energizes battery-like fuel cells. In a few decades, it could even help the world meet key energy needs — without carbon emissions contributing to the greenhouse effect and climate change.

Says Jesse Ausubel of The Rockefeller University: “Scaling this up to meet global energy needs in a carbon-free way would probably require 50 years. But a growing market for hydrogen in fuel cells could help pull the process into the market.”

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