Nanotechnology-based clean hydrogen for cars

Nanotechnology-based clean hydrogen for cars

Summary: According to EE Times, a California-based company called QuantumSphere has developed nanoparticles that could make hydrogen cheaper than gasoline. The company says its reactive catalytic nanoparticle coatings can boost the efficiency of electrolysis (the technique that generates hydrogen from water) to 85% today, exceeding the Department of Energy's goal for 2010 by 10%. The company says its process could be improved to reach an efficiency of 96% in a few years. The most interesting part of the story is that the existing gas stations would not need to be modified to distribute hydrogen. With these nanoparticle coatings, car owners could to make their own hydrogen, either in their garage or even when driving. But read more...

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TOPICS: Emerging Tech
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According to EE Times, a California-based company called QuantumSphere has developed nanoparticles that could make hydrogen cheaper than gasoline. The company says its reactive catalytic nanoparticle coatings can boost the efficiency of electrolysis (the technique that generates hydrogen from water) to 85% today, exceeding the Department of Energy's goal for 2010 by 10%. The company says its process could be improved to reach an efficiency of 96% in a few years. The most interesting part of the story is that the existing gas stations would not need to be modified to distribute hydrogen. With these nanoparticle coatings, car owners could to make their own hydrogen, either in their garage or even when driving. But read more...

QuantumSphere coated electrode to produce hydrogen in cars

You can see above Kimberly McGrath, Director of Fuel Cell Research at QuantumSphere holding a QSI-Nano NiFe coated electrode (on the left) and a standard stainless steel electrode for hydrogen generation through water electrolysis. (Credit: QuantumSphere, Inc. (QSI))

Here is the business plan of QuantumSphere according to EE Times. "QuantumSphere's plan is first to retrofit existing electrolysis equipment with its nanoparticle electrodes to boost efficiency. Next, it intends to partner with original equipment manufacturers to design at-home and on-vehicle electrolysers for making hydrogen from water for fuel cells. Finally, the company wants to work with fuel cell makers to replace their expensive platinum electrodes with inexpensive stainless-steel electrodes coated with nickel-iron nanoparticles." The question is: will this plan work?

Now, let's move to technical details. "The nanoparticles are perfect spheres, consisting of a couple hundred atoms measuring from 16 to 25 nanometers in diameter. They are formed by means of a vacuum-deposition process that uses vapor condensation to produce highly reactive catalytic nanoparticles, for which the engineering team has formulated several end-use applications. 'Our biggest engineering challenge was finding a way to get the nanoparticles to stick to metal electrodes,' McGrath said. The company has solved that problem, she said, 'enabling existing electrolysis equipment to realize a 30 percent increase in hydrogen output just by retrofitting our coated electrodes.'"

Additional details can be found on the QuantumSphere website. For example, you can read on this page how nanomaterials can be used to produce hydrogen from water. "As the world population climbs toward 6.5 billion, the demand for energy will only increase over time. Our non-renewable global oil reserve will eventually deplete, forcing us to look for viable alternatives. In addition, environmental impact awareness of burning such fuels has grown, further propelling our search for clean, efficient fuel. The hydrogen fuel cell is widely viewed as a viable alternative to combustion engines. Hydrogen is a renewable fuel that produces zero emissions when used in a fuel cell. But where does the hydrogen come from?"

QuantumSphere answers this question in a Hydrogen Generation by Water Electrolysis section. "During electrolysis, water molecules are broken into their constituent parts using QSI nanometal (such as Nano Ni) electrodes to produce oxygen (O2) and hydrogen (H2). The hydrogen can be used to power fuel cells (See How Hydrogen Creates Electric Power In A Fuel Cell); the oxygen can be stored or vented as desired. In this diagram, the electrolysis process is powered by solar panels made using Nano Ni, but conventional sources of electricity may also be used."

For more information, you also can read this 2-page paper, "Using Nanotechnology To Produce Clean Energy from Water," which contains an interesting diagram about the technique used, and the latest company news release, "QuantumSphere announces breakthrough in clean hydrogen production for industrial and transportation (February 25, 2008).

Sources: R. Colin Johnson, EE Times, February 25, 2008; and QuantumSphere website

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Topic: Emerging Tech

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33 comments
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  • I don't get it

    [i]The most interesting part of the story is that the existing gas stations would not need to be modified to distribute hydrogen.[/i]
    I thought H2 is in gas form at normal temperature and pressure.
    How can they use an existing fuel pump to pump H2 as a liquid?
    If it's still gas the tank won't hold enough fuel to get you arround.
    Linux Geek
    • I think the answer...

      ... was in the next paragraph.

      To paraphrase, they said the fuel could be produced in your garage, or on board the vehicle itself.

      -Mike
      SpikeyMike
      • still don't get it

        making the fuel in the garage still requires a tank able to sustain high pressure and very low temperatures. It would take a large amount of energy just to cool that tank when the vehicle is not in use, not to mention the explosion hazard, just remmember how Challanger blew up some years ago.
        Linux Geek
        • How much energy?

          "making the fuel in the garage still requires a tank able to sustain high pressure and very low temperatures. It would take a large amount of energy just to cool that tank when the vehicle is not in use"

          How large are we talking about? Can we get a measurement of how much energy we are losing?

          "not to mention the explosion hazard"

          As opposed to gasoline, which is also flammable and potentially explosive? It seems we are willing to accept some risk.
          CobraA1
          • Gasoline is very hard to detonate

            Watch the mythbusters episode where they tried to get a gas tank to blow up. They
            couldn't do it, even when they specially rigged the vapor to the correct percentage
            ratio.

            Liquid gasoline is completely nonflammable. You can put out matches in it (I have).
            It's the vapor that burns, and to get an explosion, you have a tiny window of of
            something like 11-20 percent vapor to air mixture.

            Hydrogen, on the other hand will burn rapidly and with a near invisible flame in the
            presence of any oxygen at all. Hydrogen is not a safe material to use for
            automobiles.

            A much better solution if you want renewable would be to crack the hydrogen out
            of water, then reform it into some sort of hydrocarbon by passing it over heated
            charcoal to get methane, ethane, butane, propane, etc, and then use that for fuel.
            frgough
        • Apparently you don't understand Thermal Dynamics

          You realize the External Tank on the shuttle is insulated, but pressurization would be the best way to keep a fuel as a liquid.

          I have seen Liquid Nitrogen carried around in nothing more than a thermos. Hydrogen takes a bit more work, but still feasible.

          As for the explosion hazard, I would worry more about all of that oxygen building up in my garage before I would worry about the Hydrogen.

          Apollo 1 burnt up before the Challenger exploded.
          nucrash
          • No, you don't know what you're talking about

            First off, it's "Thermodynamics". So we already see what knowledge you have of the subject.

            Secondly, liquid nitrogen (LN2) can be carried in a Thermos (the technical name is Dewar) because the vacuum between the inside wall and outside wall acts as a very good insulator. The LN2 inside is still at 77K (or -196 C or -321 F) That's pretty darn cold. However, liquid hydrogen's boiling point at normal atmospheric pressure is approximately 20K (or -253 C or -423 F). That is very close to liquid helium, which has to be kept in a triple-walled Dewar, with LN2 between the outside wall and the outside world so it doesn't boil off immediately. And it still boils off at a pretty good clip. You cannot keep hydrogen as a liquid above 33K (-240 C), at which its vapor pressure is already 10 atmospheres.

            Oh, and for the explosion hazard, (gaseous) hydrogen collecting is just as bad, if not worse than natural gas (methane), which I'm sure you have seen pictures of the aftermath of houses blowing up from a gas leak inside.

            Oxygen? The air is already 20% oxygen, you're not going to make that much more very fast in an electrolysis cell. As for Apollo 1, you said it, it "burnt up," not "exploded," in a 100% oxygen atmosphere, because the flammable material inside the capsule burned rapidly with all of that oxidant. Oxygen does not burn.
            cd2_z
          • Too costly

            Forget Apollo or Challenger. If you want to see the dangers of Hydrogen in the garage, look a bit farther back to the Hindenburg Zeppelin. It's probably more representative of the Hydrogen you would find in a home garage system.

            I can't see this ever getting into the home garage. First, there's the obvious fire dangers. Then you have to add in the learning curve to fill the car yourself, and the idiot/Darwin factor.

            Finally, and the real reason it will never enter the home, is cost. Not only will the H2 system be extremely expensive do to development of fool-proof safety measures, it will probably require professional installation and a training course. Then you have to look at your ongoing costs such as power usage and maintenance. On top of that, your home insurance premium will likely go through the roof, IF the insurance companies will even cover you at all once the H2 system is installed. They may even require some type of remote monitoring system, similar to or as an add-on to your ADT/Brinks home security and fire detection services, before insuring the house, which is of course another additional cost.
            jheine
          • Hydrogen is flammable, so is gasoline.

            You're right about training, but some people will still smoke ciggies anyway.
            HypnoToad72
          • Sorry about the Thermo mixup

            You did bring some specifics to the argument though.

            Amazing how ignorance can draw out intelligence.

            As for Oxygen, I know oxygen doesn't burn, it provides oxygen for everything else to burn, including anything else that may be stored in a garage.
            Apollo 1 was compressed pure oxygen. This created an environment were a single spark could ignite an entire room full of flammable items.

            Hydrogen is just as bad, but this process was supposed to contain that. And with proper storage equipment, hydrogen should be as safe as gasoline.

            As for the Hindenburg, people don't realize the amount of stupidity it took to get that thing to explode. Where I assume that there will be some precautions taken with cars, the Hindenburg had smoke rooms, electrical devices, a kitchen. And a highly flammable coating.

            We should be surprised the Graff Zeppelin didn't go up in flames much earlier.
            nucrash
          • Hindenberg

            Well at least you aren't claiming it was the "rocket fuel" doping on the Hindenberg
            that caused the fire. The doping actually wasn't much more flammable than the cloth
            itself. Grab the Hindenberg Mythbusters episode.
            frgough
          • The Hindenburg did not explode, it burned.

            The hydrogen inside the balloon was pure, it only burned when it was in contact with oxygen, i.e., when it escaped. Watch the newsreel on YouTube.

            Challenger exploded, since it had fuel and oxidizer mixed and the resulting rapid combustion caused the pressure pulse in the confined area we term an explosion. Hydrogen buildup in your garage, etc., would be like the Challenger explosion (or, again, a natural gas explosion from a leaky line and spark), since the fuel and oxidizer would be pre-mixed and combustion would be incredibly fast.
            cd2_z
    • Did you even bother reading the article...?

      The topic of the story was a nanotech coating for an electrode that is supposed to enhance the conversion of water into it's component elements - H2 and O.

      So what's that mean for "gas stations" of the future? They're going to be pumping WATER into your tank - which an onboard separator will be dissecting into H2 and O. From there it gets diverted into your car's engine where it burns, moves the car forward and exhausts - water.
      Wolfie2K3
  • RE: Nanotechnology-based clean hydrogen for cars

    a liquid hydrogen tank is no bigger than a propane tank when built for a car, and works about the same way.
    jfp
    • "a liquid hydrogen tank is no bigger than a propane tank"?

      Show me a picture of one. That's just wrong.
      cd2_z
  • How much energy is needed for electrolosys?

    Even with the effeciencies increase, how much energy is needed for electrolosys? How much more energy is needed to compress the hydrogen for storage?

    In regards to O2 vs. H2, H2 is definitely spookier! The air you breath is 21% O2. O2 by itself is not a fuel. Combustion requires a fuel + O2 plus ignition. However with H2, all you require is ignition, since you have the 21% O2 already in the air around us.

    I used to sell liquid nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen here in Texas. Liquid nitrogen is inert - it puts out fires by displacing oxygen. Liquid oxygen by itself was harmless, unless it was stored next to fuel. Liquid hydrogen? - very spooky. If it was exposed to air, all that was required to set it off was static electricity! And does it burn hot! The flame is almost invisible. It would MELT your skin, not just burn it or crisp it. And you couldn't SEE the flame, but you could sure feel the heat from WAY OFF. Way more dangerous than even gasoline.

    By the way, gasoline is liquid at room temperature. No energy is needed (other than cracking the crude) to make it liquid. The liquid state of gasoline does not burn. It is the vapor that burns.

    Hydrogen is vapor and super flamable all the way down to
    -260*. A WHOLE LOT of energy is used to condense hydrogen to liquid. Hydrogen in your car would never be in liquid form. All the designs are for the gaseous hydrogen to be pressurized in strong containers in your car. Of course, energy would be needed to pump the hydrogen into the car under pressure. I am interested to see the design to pump the hydrogen into the car quickly and safely, mainly from the pressurization involved. Of course it can be done, but a cheap, simple, and reliable valve that could be mass produced with a low failure rate is not an easy exercise when you are talking about gaseous hydrogen under high pressure. It has to pass the idiot test, that is, look how idiotic 5% of the population is.
    ks consulting
    • All true

      The best hydrogen economy is propane. Take your hydrogen gas and just pass it over
      heated charcoal to make your various hydrocarbons. Distribution and storage
      problems solved.
      frgough
      • Not quite.

        You forget that we're trying to get away from making CO2. Burning propane or other hydrocarbons, you do just that. Propane is also more potentially dangerous than gasoline, since it has to be stored under pressure, and a leak in the tank will shoot propane out, not just let it drip. Also, the heat you get out of propane per pound is less than what you get out of gasoline, so it is a less efficient fuel (mpg) to carry around.
        cd2_z
  • Eliminate the storage

    The answer to all storage/risk issues would be on-demand electrolysis. Just carry water (I know - easier said than done, but it is what we should be working towards).
    KNPepper
    • Agreed !!!!!

      I was expecting onboard electrolysis with users carrying "water" right from the git-go. All this talk about carrying/storing "hydrogen" to run fuel-cells is turning me off to the whole idea.
      GIGOmat