Tag Archives: hydrogen fuel

Yellowstone winter.

Solar paint makes hydrogen fuel from solar energy and water vapor

Researchers from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) have developed a “solar paint” which absorbs ambient water vapors and then draws on the Sun’s energy to split it and generate hydrogen — which can be used to create clean power cells.

Yellowstone winter.

Power overwhelming!
Image credits David Mark.

Australia has put yet another arrow in the quiver of solar energy. RMIT researchers have developed a compound which can draw moisture from the surrounding air, like a more powerful variety of those tiny silica gel packets that come in new shoes and other products to keep them dry. By itself, that’s not very impressive.

But unlike simple silica, this material, synthetic molybdenum-sulphide, is also a semiconductor and can act as a catalyst to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen atoms. This type of reactions hold the key to viable hydrogen economies, which basically use energy to split water molecules, then release that energy cleanly by chemically combining hydrogen back with oxygen. And synthetic molybdenum-sulphides could take care of that first part simply by basking in the sun.

“We found that mixing the compound with titanium oxide particles leads to a sunlight-absorbing paint that produces hydrogen fuel from solar energy and moist air,” says lead researcher Dr Torben Daeneke, from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.

“Titanium oxide is the white pigment that is already commonly used in wall paint, meaning that the simple addition of the new material can convert a brick wall into energy harvesting and fuel production real estate.

The paint has some very compelling arguments over current water-splitting technologies. Since it draws on water vapor, there’s no need for a filtering or pump system to supply it with impurity-free water. It can also produce fuel anywhere that has sunlight and water to evaporate. That means remote areas with plenty of sunlight and sufficient water, as well as the coasts of deserts and other very hot climate types can be put to work producing power. And the only byproduct of this process is good old oxygen! Smells like a good deal.

Ok, that’s pretty cool and all but why not use regular solar panels? Why go through the hassle of implementing a whole new tech when we can already harness sunlight as energy? Well, regular solar panels produce electrical energy but RMIT’s paint produces a hydrogen fuel. You can bottle it, for starters, something physics isn’t big on with ‘pure’ energy — you have to transform it into other types of energy and waste some in the process.

Fuel doesn’t have that issue. Pump it into tanks and it can be shuttled anywhere and anytime it’s needed since you can just build up a stock of the stuff. And it can be used to power fuel cells as well as conventional combustion engines — with the added benefit that they’d spit out water instead of exhaust. For communities that can’t afford to shift to electric engines, hydrogen fuel is a really attractive way of keeping current vehicles and infrastructure in use while virtually deleting their emissions. That means better health, better environmental footprint, all with comparatively minimal investment.

The only catch is that for now, producing hydrogen fuel remains a very energy-intensive and cost-prohibitive endeavor — something which technology such as this will hopefully soon change.

The full paper “Surface Water Dependent Properties of Sulfur-Rich Molybdenum Sulfides: Electrolyteless Gas Phase Water Splitting” has been published in the journal ACS Nano.


Toyota confirms confirms fuel cell launch for 2015; zero local emissions and 500-mile range

Toyota has officially announced that it will launch a hydrogen fuel cell-powered car in 2015, but said sales volumes would be limited. The company announced they will use a high-density fuel stack which will have the potential to cover 500 miles on a single fuel tank.

Photo: Toyota

toyota fuel cell car

The technology will take a while to be implemented and accepted by the public, says European president, Didier Leroy.

“To help that happen we will bring a reasonable number of cars to Europe. The volume will be limited, but they will be visible on the streets,” he said.

However, while this sounds like a really awesome idea, I have some doubts. Converting fuels to hydrogen for fuel cells often creates more pollution than just burning the fuels. Sure, you could obtain hydrogen for fuel cells using any type of energy, including renewable, which is of course a good thing – but if you do this, why do hydrogen in the first place, and not just use electric cars?

I haven’t found any information regarding the efficiency and carbon footprint of this new technology, so I won’t make any more assumptions, but the good thing is that hydrogen fuel is easy to store, better at capturing renewable energies than batteries and can be produced anywhere – it’s also faster to recharge your car with it than electricity.

“Taking these facts into account reinforces how Toyota is convinced fuel cell can deliver our ultimate goal of zero emissions and sustainable transport,” he said.

This sounds like a lofty goal, but again – just moving the emissions from individual cars to the hydrogen producing facilities doesn’t do much. I guess we’ll have to wait until 2015 to see just how efficient this really is.

New Device Harnesses Sun and Sewage to Produce Hydrogen Fuel

It almost seems too good to be true – a novel device that uses only sunlight and wastewater to produce hydrogen gas could provide a sustainable energy source, while also improving the efficiency of the waste water system.

A sustainable, self-driven system

deviceIn a paper published in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano, a team led by Yat Li, associate professor of chemistry at the University of California, Santa Cruz described how they developed the hybrid solar-microbial device which combines a microbial fuel cell (MFC) and a type of solar cell called a photoelectrochemical cell (PEC).

In the Microbial (MFC) component, bacteria generate electricity by degrading the organic material in the waste water. The biologically generated energy is then delivered to the PEC to assist the solar-powered splitting of water (electrolysis) that generates hydrogen and oxygen.

Strictly speaking, both MFC and PEC could be used individually to generate hydrogen gas; the problem however, is that both require a small additional voltage (an “external bias”) to overcome the thermodynamic energy barrier for proton reduction into hydrogen gas. When used together, the two elements are sustainable and self driven, because the combined energy from the organic matter (harvested by the MFC) and sunlight (captured by the PEC) is sufficient to drive the electrolysis of water.

“The only energy sources are wastewater and sunlight,” Li said. “The successful demonstration of such a self-biased, sustainable microbial device for hydrogen generation could provide a new solution that can simultaneously address the need for wastewater treatment and the increasing demand for clean energy.”

Unusual bacteria, scaling, and commercial use

The microbial cells feature some rather unusual bacteria, which are able to generate electricity by transferring metabolically-generated electrons across their cell membranes to an external electrode. In order to develop this component, Li teamed up with researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) who have been studying electrogenic bacteria and working to enhance MFC performance. As it turns out, waste water is a perfect environment, as it contains both rich organic nutrients and a diverse mix of microbes that feed on those nutrients, including naturally occurring strains of electrogenic bacteria.

When fed with wastewater and illuminated in a solar simulator, the PEC-MFC device showed continuous production of hydrogen gas at an average rate of 0.05 cubic meters per day. Of course, in order to become actually useful, this invention has to be scaled, and considering that researchers also reported a drop in hydrogen as bacteria used up the organic matter in the wastewater, cuold this become commercially viable?

Scientists are optimistic. They are already in the process of scaling up the small laboratory device to make a larger 40-liter prototype continuously fed with municipal wastewater. This is the intermediary step, and if everything works out fine with that, then they can finally take their results to the municipality.

“The MFC will be integrated with the existing pipelines of the plant for continuous wastewater feeding, and the PEC will be set up outdoors to receive natural solar illumination,” Qian said.

“Fortunately, the Golden State is blessed with abundant sunlight that can be used for the field test,” Li added.

Journal Reference: Hanyu Wang, Fang Qian, Gongming Wang, Yongqin Jiao, Zhen He, Yat Li. Self-Biased Solar-Microbial Device for Sustainable Hydrogen Generation. ACS Nano, 2013; 130916123121001 DOI: 10.1021/nn403082m


New method traps CO2, rends clean hydrogen and might de-acidify world’s oceans

carbon-cycleHydrogen fuel has been eyeballed by scientists, as well as governments and energy corporations, for many years now as a potential alternative fuel source because of its incredibly high energy. It’s hard to imagine any other non-carbon fuel source capable of driving rockets or high velocity vehicles, like formula 1 sports cars. Besides it being unstable and difficult to extract, however, hydrogen isn’t all that clean to begin with. Sure it has zero emissions at the consumer’s end, but you still need a lot of input energy, typically obtained from burning fossil fuels, to get it out.

Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory recently unveiled a new method of removing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide while generating carbon-negative hydrogen and producing alkalinity, which can be used in term to de-acidify oceans – an ever growing concern.

The easiest way of producing hydrogen is through electrolysis of water, however the process is still rather inefficient. The Lawrence Livermore method shines not necessarily through a refined hydrogen extraction, but rather in its ability to capture atmospheric carbon dioxide and release carbon-based products (carbonate and bicarbonate) capable of de-acidify oceans.

“We not only found a way to remove and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing valuable H2, we also suggest that we can help save marine ecosystems with this new technique,” said Greg Rau, an LLNL visiting scientist, senior scientist at UC Santa Cruz and lead author of a paper appearing this week (May 27) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The whole method revolves around the idea that the water left over after we’ve squeezed out the hydrogen fuel is said to be an electrolyte solution with a very high affinity for atmospheric CO2, due to its elevated hydroxide concentration. Current methods of capturing atmospheric carbon, like the famous “artificial trees”, require large amounts of energy to function, which makes the process cumbersome. Again, what’s the point of capturing carbon, if you’re producing it at the input side? It’s clear then why the Lawrence Livermore carbon capture method is so appealing, this despite we’ve yet to see any actual numbers on efficiency and the likes. If their work is actually true to their findings, then this simple air/water interface might prove to be nothing short of a godsend.

The good news don’t stop here either. After absorbing CO2, the electrolyte solution becomes saturated with high pH-producing (alkali) molecules like carbonates and bicarbonates. These bases can then be dumped into the acidic water of the oceans and increase the pH towards a more balanced level. You see, not all of the CO2 goes into the atmosphere. In fact a large fraction of it, some 40%, is absorbed by the water in the oceans. The resulting acidification has dire consequences for marine wildlife, especially corals and shellfish.

“When powered by renewable electricity and consuming globally abundant minerals and saline solutions, such systems at scale might provide a relatively efficient, high-capacity means to consume and store excess atmospheric CO2 as environmentally beneficial seawater bicarbonate or carbonate,” Rau said. “But the process also would produce a carbon-negative ‘super green’ fuel or chemical feedstock in the form of hydrogen.”



Breakthrough in hydrogen fuel production could revolutionize alternative energy market

It’s been discussed since the 70s – can hydrogen fuel be the much anticipated solution that ends our full dependence on fossil fuels? A team of researchers from Virginia Tech believes the answer is ‘yes’. They found a way to extract large quantities of hydrogen from any plant, bringing low-cost, environmentally friendly hydrogen-based fuel one step closer.

percival zhang

“Our new process could help end our dependence on fossil fuels,” said Y.H. Percival Zhang, an associate professor of biological systems engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Engineering. “Hydrogen is one of the most important biofuels of the future.”

Xylose is the most abundant simple plant sugar found basically in most edible plants. Zhang and his team have succeeded in using xylose to produce a large quantity of hydrogen that previously was attainable only in theory. This method can be applied using any source of biomass.

So we’re looking at a cheap, environmentally friendly method of producing hydrogen utilizing natural resources, releasing almost no greenhouse gases; previous methods which created hydrogen were costly and also produced a significant amount of greenhouse gases. Unlike gas-powered engines that spew out pollutants, the only byproduct of hydrogen fuel is water.

Jonathan R. Mielenz, group leader of the bioscience and technology biosciences division at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, who is not affiliated with the team said:

“The key to this exciting development is that Zhang is using the second most prevalent sugar in plants to produce this hydrogen,” he said. “This amounts to a significant additional benefit to hydrogen production and it reduces the overall cost of producing hydrogen from biomass.”

What’s really good about this technology is that it could hit the marketplace in no more than 3 years. Zhang believes that when it does become available, it will have a significant impact.

hydrogen fuel

“The potential for profit and environmental benefits are why so many automobile, oil, and energy companies are working on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as the transportation of the future,” Zhang said. “Many people believe we will enter the hydrogen economy soon, with a market capacity of at least $1 trillion in the United States alone.”

For seven years, Zhang and his team have been working on a non-traditional way to produce high-yield hydrogen at low cost. What they did was to liberate high-purity hydrogen under mild reaction conditions at 122 degree Fahrenheit (50 Celsius) and normal atmospheric pressure. They used a group of enzymes artificially isolated from different high-temperature thriving microorganisms to release the hydrogen.

Currently, most hydrogen is produced from natural gas, which is expensive to manufacture and generates a large amount of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide – and we’re still talking about $100 billion market. A small part of that hydrogen is actually used for energy, the biggest part going to manufacturing ammonia – but an inexpensive, green technology will almost certainly change that.

“It really doesn’t make sense to use non-renewable natural resources to produce hydrogen,” Zhang said. “We think this discovery is a game-changer in the world of alternative energy.”

Alydro autonomy

Aluminum might be the future’s eco-fuel of choice

If you’re reading ZME Science from home, chances are that you’ve got a can of beer or soda in someplace handy, and you’ll probably throw the can away after you finish your drink, hopefully in a designated recycling bin. What if I told you that the aluminum from your soda can could be used to power your car? Before you yell rubbish, read on and find what how  Alchemy Research, an Israeli company, managed to power electric vehicles using energy stored in aluminum grain.

Aluminum is a very dense element that can accommodate twice the amount of energy as gasoline fuel in the same volume. According to the company it can also store 80 times more energy per kg than today’s best Li-ion batteries. It’s also dirt cheap, easily available and easy to manipulate. The energy potential here is great, like Alchemy Research CEO Gideon Yampolsky first noticed, but how to value it? Aluminum itself can’t be used as a fuel – not by itself that is.

Alydro components

This is how the Alydro (Aluminum-Hydro) technology was born – a reactor which produces energy from a reaction between aluminum and water. For the Alydro reaction to occur, the temperature needs to be elevated to 900 Celsius, so that the aluminum grains and water may produce hot hydrogen, which is converted into electrical energy that replaces the battery in an electric vehicle.

The products of the reaction are warm air and water vapor which are later chilled and reused. “The water is not consumed, it is returned to the tank after it goes through the process. Even though the system works on aluminum and water, in practice it doesn’t use up the water,” Yampolsky tells NoCamels.

The by-product,  aluminum-oxide known as alumina, is non-toxic and non-polluting, making the system carbon-free, with zero greenhouse gas emission. Aluminum-oxide is fully recyclable;  in fact, alumina is the material used for producing aluminum in the first place.

Alchemy Research’s reactor is compact enough to fit in a car, and the company’s founder boasts some impressive figures.

The ups

Alydro autonomy

The outcome of this method, says company CEO Gideon Yampolsky, “is essentially an electric vehicle that is able to reach 2,400 km on a fuel tank that is the size of a standard fuel tank. A regular car that works on fuel is able to reach only 700- 800 km. Our fuel tank is the same size as a regular one and can last more distance.”

Currently, aluminum is priced the same as gasoline in terms of powering a vehicle. However, as gas price is ever rising, aluminum is expected to get even cheaper. Alchemy Research claims that within a few years, using aluminum grains as a primary fuel component will certainly be a lot more cost-effective than conventional fuels, currently on the market.

“As opposed to gas that emits many pollutants, we just heat the air. The only cost is the electricity that heats the air. Not only does the system not pollute, it does not react with the environment; it doesn’t add anything or take anything from the environment which is a step ahead of non-pollution. It is based on renewable energy sources, and all its by-products are recyclable,” concludes Yampolsky.

The downs

Now, although this might seem like the perfect fueling system, there are some points that the company doesn’t seem to mention and prefers to leave out. In theory everything sounds perfect, however in practice things can be different. In the came of the Alydro, for one, an electric vehicle is heavy, very heavy, compared to a typical gasoline running car. Add a water tank, reactor, aluminum tank and so on, and you’ve got yourself a beast! This might work for heavy duty trucks (would they still be cost effective or reliable?), but not normal automobiles. Also if demand grows for aluminum, like in the case of gasoline, expect the material’s price to skyrocket as well.

Yes, Alydro looks very promising, but it also looks very complicated. A lot of infrastructure would need to be dedicated to aluminum power vehicles, a lot of issues that need to be taken into consideration, but again to Alchemy Research’s credit, their system does indeed seem promising. If not for powering vehicles, expect to hear more of Alydro in the energy storage department, where it would be much more welcome, especially when today’s energy sector is faced with a dire issue – how to store energy coming from the sun?

[Alydro offcial]

A Honda FCX Clarity was the firstretail fuel-cell electric vehicle customer to refuel at the new Shell hydrogen station in Torrance, Calif., on May 10, 2011. (c) Honda

Hydrogen fuel station opens in Torrace, CA

A Honda FCX Clarity was the firstretail fuel-cell electric vehicle customer to refuel at the new Shell hydrogen station in Torrance, Calif., on May 10, 2011. (c) Honda

A Honda FCX Clarity was the firstretail fuel-cell electric vehicle customer to refuel at the new Shell hydrogen station in Torrance, Calif., on May 10, 2011. (c) Honda

Toyota is the leading electric car manufacturer in the world, and now the Japanese automobile manufacturer is prepping to dominate another emerging green auto market – the hydrogen fueled car market.

The first step hydrogen fueled cars need to take to actually make it, and maybe sometime in the not so distant future to actually go mainstream, is to have an infrastructure. This first step was made just recently when the first hydrogen refuelling station in the US which is fed directly from an active industrial hydrogen pipeline went operational.

The hydrogen fuel station is located in Torrace, a suburb of Los Angeles, and was oppened in cooperation between Toyota, who owns the land on which the station was built, and Shell, which works directly with Air Products and provides on-site equipment and station maintenance. Air Products’ also provides storage and dispensing technology and hydrogen compression; and currently has the requested fuel capacity of 50kg per 12hour day. Quite a joint venture.

“Building an extensive hydrogen refueling infrastructure is a critical step in the successful market launch of fuel-cell vehicles,” said Chris Hostetter, a Toyota group vice president. “We plan to bring a fuel-cell vehicle to market in 2015, or sooner, and the infrastructure must be in place to support our customers’ needs.”

Los Angeles is home to probably more hydrogen vehicles than anywhere else in the U.S., which doesn’t necessarily say a lot since there are only a handful, but the new station is only the seventh in the region, so  if hydrogen vehicles ever take off, then SoCal is likely to be the place.

The station will also feature a learning centre that provides hydrogen and station information to local students and the general public. The arrival of the site will also make the part of the California Hydrogen Highway Initiative.

Fuel cell cars are still a long way though, and don’t expect to see too many hydrogen fueled cars in the near future. The current procedure is so intricate and exclusive that only a handful of people are currently driving such vehicles, most of which are actually test drives. But it’s starting to take off, bit by bit.

About three years ago, Honda started leasing the Clarity, a fuel cell car, to qualified people. Now Mercedes-Benz joined the bandwagon as well, and started leasing it’s own fuel cell car. It isn’t cheap at $850 a month, but that includes insurance and the fuel once stations start charging for it. Besides the high price, you need to also live near a hydrogen station to be considered for the waiting list.

“Currently, that’s our biggest challenge,” said Mercedes spokesman Larkin Hill. “The technology is ready, but the fueling is an integral part, and we need to have people live next to or close to a fueling station.”


Microbes Plus Sugars Equals Hydrogen Fuel


The need to find out energy sources and the development of genetic and microbiology make it likely to find out bacteria or microbes which could be very useful. In this case the bacteria should be able to eat sugar or sludge and it must be team player or electrochemically active. Surviving without oxygen would be a good thing but it is not strictly necessary.According to Mike Cotta, who leads the ARS Fermentation Biotechnology Research Unit, Peoria, Ill., the project with WU arose from a mutual interest in developing sustainable methods of producing energy that could diminish U.S. reliance on crude oil. Here ARS stands for Agricultural Research Service and WU stands for Washington University.

They use microorganisms or yeasts such as ferment grain sugars into fuel ethanol. They are searching for microbes that “eat” biomass sugars (e.g., glucose and xylose from corn stover) and are electrochemically active. This means that they are able to transfer electrons from fuel cell sugars with low costs.

Bacteroides and Shewanella are among bacteria species used to start the process. This study is very important as it could have a huge impact and it could very likely be a nonpolluting way of producing energy from other sources than fossil fuels.