May 11, 2010

New idea may save H2 & Wind future

Next100 - Cheaper Way to Split Water
The current tech to make H2 is immensely expensive to ever dream of replacing current energy sources... and while finding a cheaper way to make H2 will help its future, cheaper electrolysis could also be an ideal companion to a big wind farm that produces lots of energy at times when it's not otherwise needed. Divert that energy to splitting some water into hydrogen and oxygen and voila, you could have an excellent source of standby energy--just like a big battery--available when energy demands peak but the winds die down.

Next100... a new discovery from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) of an effective replacement for platinum as a catalyst for the production of hydrogen from water could be a very big deal indeed. If hydrogen could be produced cheaply enough, it could be used for clean electric power generation or as a transportation fuel. The only byproduct would be water vapor.Credit: Wikipedia Commons

A team at LBNL says it has identified a molybdenum compound that works about as well as platinum but costs only one-seventieth as much.

"In addition," said Hemamala Karunadasa, one of the co-discoverers, "our catalyst does not require organic additives, and can operate in neutral water, even if it is dirty, and can operate in sea water, the most abundant source of hydrogen on earth and a natural electrolyte. These qualities make our catalyst ideal for renewable energy and sustainable chemistry."

LBNL scientists aren't the only ones seeking a breakthrough in cheaper catalysts. Other academic scientists have their eyes on cobalt compounds and on ceramic materials that could replace platinum in fuel cells. 

Finding a workable and far cheaper catalyst for electroloysis would be a huge achievement but wouldn't revolutionize the energy industry overnight. That's because hydrogen is an energy carrier, like electricity, not an energy source, like the sun or fossil fuels. Even with a good catalyst, hydrogen takes more energy to produce than it delivers back as energy when burned or fed into a fuel cell. Thus the so-called "hydrogen economy" would require major new infrastructure for hydrogen production, gas storage and gas transportation, all of which make it an expensive proposition. - Read full at Next100