Purdue Develops Alloy For Commercially Viable Hydrogen Production
February 21, 2008 1:43 PM
comment(s) - last by
Jerry Woodall, a professor at Purdue University invented the new alloy production process, promising affordable, easy hydrogen.
(Source: Purdue University)
Pictures of the alloy in water, reacting to produce hydrogen, as evidenced by bubbling.
(Source: Purdue University)
The byproduct of the process is a recyclable mix of aluminum and gallium-indium-tin ores.
(Source: Purdue University)
Here a Purdue researcher uses the hydrogen produced by the process to power an internal combustion engine.
(Source: Purdue University)
While some hydrogen research focuses on simulating nature, a new metal reagent developed by Purdue University promises economic viability
Jerry Woodall, a distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue University, is firmly ground in the world of commercial production. When he began researching ways to improve hydrogen production using aluminum reagents, his goal was simple -- if it wasn't commercially viable, it wasn't a success.
While recent researchers have reported significant breakthroughs in fields such as
microbial hydrogen production
, these methods currently are too inefficient to currently be
feasible as a non-subsidized fuel alternative
. While these methods are exciting in that they may one day lead to cleaner and more effective energy production, many agree that
the time for hydrogen is now
, and waiting for theoretical methods is simply impractical.
Fortunately Purdue's Woodall
developed a more down to Earth method of hydrogen production
that promises a feasible infrastructure and short term commercial viability. Woodall states, "We now have an economically viable process for producing hydrogen on-demand for vehicles, electrical generating stations and other applications."
The key to the method is a new aluminum reagent, which Woodall invented. The new reagent is composed of 95 percent aluminum and then a critical 5 percent mixture of gallium, indium and tin to improve its reactive character. Previous similar alloys used far more gallium, which is very expensive. By cutting down the gallium, Woodall greatly reduced the costs of hydrogen production.
When the new alloy is exposed to water, it reacts to create hydrogen gas and oxygen. The oxygen then bonds to the aluminum to form aluminum oxide, also known as alumina. It is cheaper to recycle alumina back to aluminum than it is to refine aluminum from bauxite ore, which is another element contributing to its efficiency. Woodall illuminates, "After recycling both the aluminum oxide back to aluminum and the inert gallium-indium-tin alloy only 60 times, the cost of producing energy both as hydrogen and heat using the technology would be reduced to 10 cents per kilowatt hour, making it competitive with other energy technologies."
Control of the microscopic structure of the solid aluminum and the gallium-indium-tin alloy mixture is critical to the technology's success. The mixture is a "two-phase" mixture, meaning that it features abrupt changes in composition between one constituent to another. Woodall explains this challenge stating, "This is because the mixture tends to resist forming entirely as a homogeneous solid due to the different crystal structures of the elements in the alloy and the low melting point of the gallium-indium-tin alloy. I can form a one-phase melt of liquid aluminum and the gallium-indium-tin alloy by heating it. But when I cool it down, most of the gallium-indium-tin alloy is not homogeneously incorporated into the solid aluminum, but remains a separate phase of liquid. The constituents separate into two phases just like ice and liquid water."
Researchers had two options -- fast cooling to leave separate alloys or slow cooling to yield a single solid alloy brick. At first they tried fast cooling, which required a puddle of gallium-indium-tin to initiate the reaction. However, when they turned to the slow-cooled alloy, they were impressed to discover that it reacted just as well, or better, eliminating the need for the liquid gallium-indium-tin alloy. Woodall adds, "That was a fantastic discovery. What used to be a curiosity is now a real alternative energy technology."
The Purdue team is currently completing work on developing a production method to produce briquettes of the alloy. These briquettes could be dropped into a tank of water, producing pure hydrogen. This would eliminate both the need for hydrogen storage and hydrogen transportation, two critical obstacles for the hydrogen industry.
The gallium-indium-tin alloy in the process is inert and is able to be recovered with almost 100 percent efficiency. Woodall says even the less efficient aluminum recycling produces much less carbon emissions than traditional fuel. He states, "The aluminum oxide is recycled back into aluminum using the currently preferred industrial process called the Hall-Héroult process, which produces one-third as much carbon dioxide as combusting gasoline in an engine."
In order to fully realize the technology on a national scale for fuel use, alumina recycling infrastructure would need to be dramatically expanded. Additionally, gallium-indium-tin recycling would need to be added. This infrastructure would be expensive, but according to Woodall "the economic risk is large, but the potential payoff is also large."
Woodall won the 2001 National Medal of Technology, the highest award for technological achievement in the U.S. Woodall his fellow researchers will present their findings on Feb. 26, 2008 at the Materials Innovations in an Emerging Hydrogen Economy conference in Cocoa Beach, Fla. The alloy production process's primary patent title is owned by the Purdue Research Foundation. Purdue has licensed the technology to an Indiana startup company, AlGalCo LLC., which Purdue hopes will be the first company to implement the technology commercially.
Purdue's solution is similar to the University of Leeds'
new method of producing hydrogen from biofuel waste sludge
, in that both solutions are economically feasible, but require the development of production infrastructures. However the new method from Purdue can make hydrogen from a far more plentiful source -- pure water.
This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled
2/22/2008 1:44:01 AM
Those are some very good points that have to be looked at in evaluating this potential technology.
The first point is easy to address at least. You are absolutely right it isn't a catalyst, however, the aluminum isn't "used up" into an unusable form, but simply must be reconverted. That is, nothing is lost physically (theoretically, but it'll never be 100% and some aluminum will slip from our notice along the way, even if just by human choice).
Now, the really important question that sums everything up is how much energy will we get back from the evolved hydrogen verses how much energy is used to turn alumina and raw ore (whatever ratios of both are needed to keep up our supplies) into aluminum? I haven't the foggiest in answering that. But that seems to me to be the real clincher in deciding if this is viable or not.
Third: This process is far more efficient than any yet. That is, as the inventor stated (though I don't know how he calculated it) after 60 recycles it'll cost us only 10 cents to produce a kilowatt hour of energy from this technology. That is very cost effective. It's like a fluorescent light bulb verses incandescent: the former is more expensive initially, but over time pays for itself and even saves you money if you have it around long enough. I think that's the crux of this technology, though I can't even start to evaluate if the inventor's claims are true. Still, it's the most viable and commercially competitive way of producing hydrogen yet (all other techs will take quite a while longer to reach the point were they may be commercially possible, let alone viable), or so it would appear.
"Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be." -- Steve Ballmer
Solar Cell Makes Hydrogen Via Synthetic Photosynthesis
February 19, 2008, 12:13 AM
Cellulosic Ethanol Promises $1 per Gallon Fuel From Waste
January 14, 2008, 11:01 AM
CES 2008 Ride and Drive with GM's Fuel Cell Equinox and DARPA Tahoe
January 11, 2008, 1:50 PM
New Process Turns Biofuel Waste Into Clean Hydrogen
December 1, 2007, 1:35 AM
Microbial Hydrogen Production Threatens Extinction for the Ethanol Dinosaur
November 15, 2007, 9:51 AM
Creationists are Mad About Google Doodle Depicting Evolution
November 24, 2015, 8:48 PM
DHS and TSA: Whoops, We Missed That 73 Airport Employees May be Terrorists
November 19, 2015, 2:16 PM
Star Wars Spinoff Film "Rogue One", Theme Park Attractions Announced
August 17, 2015, 12:20 PM
SpaceX Falcon 9's Seventh Supply Mission to ISS Ends w/ Fiery Stage 1 Explosion
June 28, 2015, 1:10 PM
Cool Science Video: Glowing Millipede Prowls the Nevada Desert
May 18, 2015, 12:00 PM
Newly Discovered Costa Rican Glass Frog is Kermit's Doppelgänger
April 22, 2015, 11:26 AM
Latest Blog Posts
Sceptre Airs 27", 120 Hz. 1080p Monitor/HDTV w/ 5 ms Response Time for $220
Dec 3, 2014, 10:32 PM
Costco Gives Employees Thanksgiving Off; Wal-Mart Leads "Black Thursday" Charge
Oct 29, 2014, 9:57 PM
"Bear Selfies" Fad Could Turn Deadly, Warn Nevada Wildlife Officials
Oct 28, 2014, 12:00 PM
The Surface Mini That Was Never Released Gets "Hands On" Treatment
Sep 26, 2014, 8:22 AM
ISIS Imposes Ban on Teaching Evolution in Iraq
Sep 17, 2014, 5:22 PM
More Blog Posts
Copyright 2016 DailyTech LLC. -
Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information