Researchers change shape of aluminum nanoparticles to produce hydrogen at room temperature

January 26 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: Beyond   Rating: 3

hydrogen production

Scientists at Penn State University and Virginia Commonwealth University have discovered a way to produce hydrogen using aluminum nanoparticles (billionth of a meter) that react with water molecules to split oygen and hydrogen bonds.

What does that mean?

The physical arrangment and exposure of the alumninum atoms determines its ability to split certain chemical bonds by binding oxygen and releasing hydrogen.

Three of the tested aluminum clusters produced hydrogen from water at room temperature.

This ground-breaking work is important because it confirms the belief held by catalysis researchers that nanoparticle 'geometries, not just electronic properties', effect the reaction performance of catalytic materials.

Hydrogen Production at Room Temperature (& Confusion of Hype vs Hope)

“The ability to produce hydrogen at room temperature is significant because it means that we did not use any heat or energy to trigger the reaction,” said VCU Professor of Physics Shiv Khanna. “Traditional techniques for splitting water to produce hydrogen generally require a lot of energy at the time the hydrogen is generated. But our method allows us to produce hydrogen without supplying heat, connecting to a battery, or adding electricity. Once the aluminum clusters are synthesized, they can generate hydrogen on demand without the need to store it.”

Khanna hopes that the team’s findings will pave the way toward investigating how the aluminum clusters can be recycled for continual usage and how the conditions for the release of hydrogen can be controlled.  “It looks as though we might be able to come up with ways to remove the hydroxyl group (OH-) that remains attached to the aluminum clusters after they generate hydrogen so that we can reuse the aluminum clusters again and again,” he said.


Confusion over Hydrogen

Hydrogen is the most misunderstood and misrepresented piece of the future energy landscape. Ten years ago it was fashionable to be a True Believer in hydrogen as 'saving the Planet', now it is fashionable to be a skeptic.  Confusion reigns.

Electricity powers the future.  Hydrogen is merely a chemical storage method that produces electricity when converted in a fuel cell.  The image of a 'Hydrogen Economy' is an economy powered by electricity.  A better phrase might be 'Hydricity' to reflect the synergy of electricity and hydrogen in energy storage and conversion systems that eliminate the role of carbon bonds.

The debate over hydrogen's future is not over.  But it would be naive to make blanket statements about hydrogen as a savior or waste of time.  Its role in the future is probably somewhere in the middle: an elegant energy storage system.

What is certain is that our ability to produce hydrogen (using solar energy, algae/bacteria, natural gas, coal) is improving as we design catalytic materals.  And our ability to store hydrogen as a solid is also evolving alongside new nanostructured materials.

So we will continue to monitor the disruptive research and innovations that keep the 'hope of hydrogen' alive and well.

Via Chemistry Times

VCU Press release- Materials Sourced & Image Credit


The team's findings will be published in the 23 January 2009 issue of the journal Science.


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