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Alane, shown here in a computer-generated artist's rendition is a promising material for solid state hydrogen storage. Researchers have finally devised a cost-effective way to repair the damage to the material that slowly occurs when it goes through loading and unloading cycles.  (Source: UNB)

The material could be used to create safer fuel tanks for hydrogen-driven future cars, such as the Honda FC (Fuel Cell) Sport seen here.
Method found to efficiently regenerate aluminum hydride

Hydrogen is considered one of the potential fuel sources of the future.  From using solar and wind energy to generate hydrogen as a power storage scheme, to hydrogen vehicles and backup power, the gas holds great promise for fuelling our world.  However, three key challenges exists for the hydrogen economy -- production, storage and distribution.

New research from U.S. Department of Energy's Savannah River National Laboratory goes a long way to solving the problem of storage.  In the new research, scientists take aluminum hydride (AlH3), also known as alane, and demonstrate a way that a standard pressure electrochemical process can be used to restore the material, which is damaged each time it releases hydrogen gas.

Typically hydrogen is stored as a liquid, but this method requires high pressures making it difficult to work with and potential dangerous.  Solid storage is more promising, but for a material to be an ideal solid state storage candidate, it must meet a grueling set of criteria -- matching DOE gravimetric and/or volumetric performance targets (amounts stored); having sufficient thermodynamic character to release the gas when needed; and being able to reload the gas after release.

Only one material thus far has met these criteria -- alane.  However, alane slowly degrades with each refill as the hydrogen carries away a bit of the metal.  Chemical reformation techniques required high pressures and often are hindered by stable metal chloride formation.  In the past electrochemical methods were tried by yielded no success.  Now with the new method a cost-effective way of creating a self-healing alane storage system is at last possible.

Dr. Ragaiy Zidan of SRNL, lead researcher on the project says the research may also yield to breakthroughs in fields using related materials, such as thin film use and adduct based syntheses.

The research is reported in the journal Chem. Commun. and was paid for by a Department of Energy grant.



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Hydrogen Is a Fuel
By cserwin on 7/9/2009 9:22:12 AM , Rating: 5
I'm driven somewhat insane by the continual language referring to hydrogen as a 'Fuel Source'. It does not separate itself magically from chemical compounds. It is a 'Fuel', but the 'source' of it must be some combination of a chemical source (e.g. water), and energy source (e.g. sun), and chemical or electro-chemical process (hydrolysis).

It seems pretty evident that the future of energy transmission will involve conversion to electricity (as opposed to direct thermal/mechanical conversion), and electricity will be the standard commodity of energy trading.

In that context, hydrogen is useful to the extent that it can store energy, can be physically transported, and can be used to produce electricity at the point that it is needed.

The research in this article addresses the stability of storage and transport of small volumes of hydrogen - probably a practical order of magnitude of 100 kilograms or so.

The source of the hydrogen is not addressed.




RE: Hydrogen Is a Fuel
By FITCamaro on 7/9/09, Rating: -1
RE: Hydrogen Is a Fuel
By FITCamaro on 7/9/09, Rating: -1
RE: Hydrogen Is a Fuel
By darkpuppet on 7/9/2009 9:53:24 AM , Rating: 2
actually, a lot of hydrogen cars would likely use a fuel-cell type configuration.

Burning the fuel isn't as efficient or practical as running it through a fuel cell and using the electricity generated to run the car.

Electric motors are achieving somewhere in the neighbourhood of 97% efficiency -- something a combustion engine will likely never get close to.


RE: Hydrogen Is a Fuel
By FITCamaro on 7/9/09, Rating: -1
RE: Hydrogen Is a Fuel
By MrPickins on 7/9/2009 12:24:20 PM , Rating: 2
I was under the impression that fuel cell + hydrogen = electricity.


RE: Hydrogen Is a Fuel
By monomer on 7/9/2009 3:46:50 PM , Rating: 3
Not quite. The reaction is basically:

Hydrogen + Oxygen = Water + Electricity

The fuel cell is used as a catalyzing surface where the reaction occurs.


RE: Hydrogen Is a Fuel
By Solandri on 7/9/2009 2:14:31 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Ok but in that case you are not producing hydrogen to make electricity. You are making electricity, a byproduct of which is hydrogen. Hydrogen alone doesn't produce electricity.

You have this backwards. You consume hydrogen to make electricity (or energy).

Hydrogen gas and various compounds with hydrogen (like natural gas and gasoline) have hydrogen atoms in a high energy state. Water (H2O) has hydrogen in a low energy state. When you combine the hydrogen with oxygen to form water, the move from that high to low energy state results in an energy release.

In an engine, that energy is released in the form of a pressure change, heat, and noise. It's subject to various thermodynamic laws governing pressure and heat, and thus is limited in efficiency by our ambient air temperature. In a fuel cell, that energy is released mostly in the form of electricity, avoiding some of those thermodynamic laws and thus allowing for higher efficiency.

The problem is hydrogen in oil and natural gas is relatively stable. It's easy to find naturally in that state, and easy to store and transport. Hydrogen gas is not stable, so is rare and needs to be manufactured, and is difficult to store and transport. You end up having to first manufacture the hydrogen gas, then combine it with oxygen in a fuel cell. The efficiency losses in that two-step process wipes out most of the efficiency gains you get from using a fuel cell instead of an engine.

OP is correct that too many laypersons see this as simply "use hydrogen as a fuel instead of gasoline." For hydrogen to work, we need solutions in fuel cells, in cost-effective hydrogen manufacture, and in storage and distribution. It's a helluva bigger problem than simply replacing your car engine with a fuel cell. Somehow I suspect this is going to come full circle and someone is going to come up with a fuel cell which works with the hydrogen in liquid hydrocarbons like gasoline and alcohol. While on the face of it this doesn't seem like this would be an improvement, it would be better than combustion both in efficiency and because a more controlled reaction yields fewer pollutants.


RE: Hydrogen Is a Fuel
By 67STANG on 7/9/2009 11:57:50 AM , Rating: 2
Electric motors are achieving somewhere in the neighbourhood of 97% efficiency -- something a combustion engine will never get close to.

Fixed.


RE: Hydrogen Is a Fuel
By invidious on 7/9/2009 1:54:30 PM , Rating: 2
Thank you for emphasizing the obvious. But energy efficiency will always be trumped by cost efficiency. Right now and for the forseable furture oil is cheap and alteranative fuels are not.

There is a reason why people aren't flocking to buy alterative fuel source cars, mp$ is what people really care about, not mpg.


RE: Hydrogen Is a Fuel
By 67STANG on 7/9/2009 6:06:22 PM , Rating: 2
It's a double-edged sword. Energy efficiency costs more because it's what we don't have, and it's also what we want.

Classic case of supply and demand, really. We are going to hit the price point eventually (although, not for a while in this economy), and when that happens, adoption soars and prices landslide.


RE: Hydrogen Is a Fuel
By Samus on 7/9/2009 7:33:16 PM , Rating: 2
You need to read up on how hydrogen vehicles like the Honda FC work. They don't have internal combustion engines and are 100% electric vehicles.

The hydrogen is converted into electricity via chemical reaction in an onboard electrochemical powerplant, releasing water vapor in the process. This is done in REAL TIME as the demand for electricity is needed by the electric motor or onboard systems. The Honda FC has a 100-farad, 20v capacitor distribution block (ten 10-farad capacitors) for momentary storage and clean electrical distribution. The vehicle also has a standard battery (however not lead acid) but our shop FC has an Excid gel-cell 12v battery for running certain systems with the hydrogen fuel system disengaged the same way your battery works with your typical ICE off. The battery is small because it doesn't need high cranking amps, and it helps save weight and space.

Everything in this vehicle is electric. Heat, A/C, steering, brake booster vacuum, drivetrain, etc.


RE: Hydrogen Is a Fuel
By Shannaport on 7/11/2009 8:37:24 PM , Rating: 2
You don't need any hydrogen infrastructure anymore, these guys have built, patented and been government funded to eliminate the need for H2 infrastructure. You do not need any new infrastructure now:

http://www.limnia.com


RE: Hydrogen Is a Fuel
By Shannaport on 7/11/2009 8:38:52 PM , Rating: 2
You don't need any hydrogen infrastructure anymore, these guys have built, patented and been government funded to eliminate the need for H2 infrastructure. You do not need any new infrastructure now:

http://www.limnia.com


RE: Hydrogen Is a Fuel
By MrBlastman on 7/9/2009 11:04:00 AM , Rating: 2
Curiously enough - the alane is carried away slowly over time by the hydrogen. Where does all that alane go? Catalytic Converters have a hard time with heavy metals such as lead (the lead kills the cat) - so is it going to be spit out into our atmosphere?

I know aluminum specifically, if built up in the blood stream can be pretty bad for you. Not to raise some environmental flag here, but I'm curious what kind of technology they'll put in place to help filter these emissions out. Hydrogen is clean - water vapor, good stuff, but aluminum water vapor, not so sure about.

I'm a strong proponent towards complete abolishment of liquid fuels, unfortunately we are no where near where we need to be technologically to do it (without micro-nuke reactors or decay generators - or a complete public transport system).


RE: Hydrogen Is a Fuel
By JediJeb on 7/9/2009 11:36:10 AM , Rating: 2
The Alane is Aluminum Hydride, and what is carried away is some of the Hydrogen forming the hydride. So there doesn't seem to be any Aluminum being lost so the fear of Aluminum contamination of the envrionment should be low. The lost Hydrogen would be consumed by the vehicle using it for fuel but the storage cell is broken down which is the problem.


RE: Hydrogen Is a Fuel
By MrBlastman on 7/9/2009 3:20:10 PM , Rating: 2
Ah, okay thanks for clarifying that. So some of the hydrogen that makes up the hydride is expunged from the molecular matrix in addition to the hydrogen being stored as fuel.

Perhaps, then, this is a direct side effect of the very reason the mechanism is effective - with the hydrogen in the compound bonding with the fuel-hydrogen. Heck, I don't know, I'm not a chemist, just taking a guess here. :)


RE: Hydrogen Is a Fuel
By Orac4prez on 7/10/2009 12:53:49 AM , Rating: 3
Some very low amounts of alane are lost. However, alane is quite reactive and is easily oxidised (oxygen) and hydrolysed (water). Depending on the environment it may be an aluminium oxide (eg alumina) or aluminate salt. These are not considered toxic. A few years ago there was a study in the UK of beer in aluminium cans. The beer (and in fact any acidic juice) caused a small amount (10-100ppm) of an aluminate salt to form which was consumed. Similarly, there have been concerns of aluminium salts from pans leading to alzheimers. Many of the plastic food containers have aluminised liners as well and the combination of oxygen and food acid can lead to aluminium being released into the food. In all cases, the evidence doesn't support to aluminium being responsible for any neural damage or other affects.

You are most likely to get aluminium in your body drinking tap water as aluminosilicates are frequently used to flocculate clays, etc to clean drinking water. Excess aluminosilicates are always used, so you would get lots from there.


RE: Hydrogen Is a Fuel
By monomer on 7/9/2009 4:15:55 PM , Rating: 2
I remember going through a bunch of case studies from around 2000 dealing with potential sources for hydrogen for use in fuel cells.

Water is definitely a top choice since it is so abundant, but the electricity required for electrolysis is generally prohibitive. Also, if I remember correctly, you need to use a fairly pure water (i.e. not salt water) otherwise you're left with huge maintenance costs constantly cleaning your electrodes.

One of the most promising hydrogen sources was to convert Methane (CH4) into Hydrogen. The methane would come Natural Gas which is another fairly abundant source in North America. One of the main problems with this, though, is that its easier to just use the natural gas as a fuel, and skip the entire conversion. This way you don't have to worry about the technical hassles of developing a fuel cell, and with conversion losses, the efficiency is basically a wash.


Or one could wait six months for...
By Quijonsith on 7/9/2009 8:49:36 AM , Rating: 5
the newest in urine powered devices. That's right folks, simply place a special nickel electrode in urine, apply 0.037 Volts, and you've got hydrogen.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31805166/ns/technology...




RE: Or one could wait six months for...
By Hieyeck on 7/9/2009 9:08:05 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
A fuel cell, urine-powered vehicle could theoretically travel 90 miles per gallon.
That's alot of pee you'd need.


RE: Or one could wait six months for...
By Quijonsith on 7/9/2009 9:13:24 AM , Rating: 2
"One cow can provide enough energy to supply hot water for 19 houses"

Alot of pee indeed. Though I'd hate to imagine the smell at future "refill" stations.


RE: Or one could wait six months for...
By FITCamaro on 7/9/09, Rating: 0
By andrinoaa on 7/9/2009 6:35:34 PM , Rating: 2
fit, isn't it time you grew up? All this narcism from you is grating.


By MrPoletski on 7/9/2009 10:07:15 AM , Rating: 5
quote:
That's alot of pee you'd need.


Just think how much beer that would require!.... :D


RE: Or one could wait six months for...
By marvdmartian on 7/9/2009 10:16:24 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah, but think of it this way.....you'd no longer have to stop to fill your fuel tank and use the restroom, would you??? ;)


By MrBlastman on 7/9/2009 10:59:08 AM , Rating: 2
Big Gulp sales will go through the roof!


By encryptkeeper on 7/9/2009 2:31:57 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
A fuel cell, urine-powered vehicle could theoretically travel 90 miles per gallon.

That's alot of pee you'd need.


So peeing in someone's gas tank won't be a practical joke anymore? Man, nothing is fun these days...


By Nobleman00 on 7/9/2009 6:02:23 PM , Rating: 2
How do you test the quality of the pee? How do I know I'm getting regular, plus, or premium pee?


By jf79 on 7/11/2009 12:10:05 AM , Rating: 2
I've heard of Mercedes working on a car that uses urea.


I'm interested in seeing
By amanojaku on 7/9/2009 8:07:36 AM , Rating: 2
How well this works out. If it's successful I wonder if there could be applications on other materials, such as silicon or graphene. Imagine self-healing computers. Then you could really wait to upgrade at your convenience!




Curious
By shazbotron on 7/9/2009 10:55:53 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
However, three key challenges exists for the hydrogen economy -- production, storage and distribution.


You're right, those are key challenges. Only the entire backend of a product being readily available for consumption.

Another 'key challenge' perhaps could be the lack of availability of products that consume hydrogen?




V-Power for Hydrogen?
By Roffles on 7/9/2009 11:16:08 AM , Rating: 2
So instead of breathing all the chemicals that come from exhausted gasoline, we can now look forward to a future of breathing alane and the chemicals that preserve alane? Could someone clarify this for me?




Great news
By karkas on 7/10/2009 6:22:52 PM , Rating: 2
This is really good news. Of all the "renewable" energy sources hydrogen is the only one that actually makes some feasible sense.

While I have deep skepticism about the wild claims of the AGW community, the appeal of a hydrogen economy is very enticing indeed.




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