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...
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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