Scientists discover recycling method to advance fuel cell practicality

Mar 21, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- The use of hydrogen as a practical, widespread alternative fuel to gasoline took another step today as researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory and The University of Alabama announce a method for recycling a hydrogen fuel source.

The scientists demonstrate that a lightweight material, , can be a feasible material for storing on vehicles, according to an article publishing in the March 18 issue of Science. In the upcoming article, researchers describe an efficient method of adding hydrogen back into the material once the is spent.

“This is a critical step if we want to use hydrogen as a fuel for the transportation industry,” said Dr. David Dixon, the Robert Ramsay Chair of Chemistry at The University of Alabama and one of the article’s co-authors.

In this approach, ammonia borane in a fuel tank produces hydrogen which, when combined with oxygen in the vehicle’s , releases energy. That energy is then converted to electricity that powers an electric motor. Water is the only emission.

After hydrogen is released from the ammonia borane, a residue, which the researchers refer to as “spent fuel,” remains.

“The spent fuel stays in the car, and we need to add hydrogen back to it in order to use it again,” Dixon says. “What this paper describes is an efficient way to add the hydrogen back to make the ammonia borane again. And it can be done in a single reactor.”

Practical, efficient and affordable storage of hydrogen has been one of the challenges in making the powering of electrical motors via hydrogen fuel cells a viable alternative to traditional gasoline powered engines. Benefits of hydrogen fuel cell technology include cleaner air and less dependence on foreign oil.

Today’s announcement of a successful “fuel regeneration process,” as the scientists call it, overcomes one key hurdle.

The experimental work was done at Los Alamos and the computer modeling work was done in Dixon’s University of Alabama lab. UA co-authors with Dixon are Edward “Ted” B. Garner III, a University graduate student from Florence; J. Pierce Robinson, a UA undergraduate from Atmore; and Dr. Monica Vasiliu, a UA alumna from Romania who is working with Dixon as a post-doctoral researcher.

The article’s lead author is Dr. Andrew D. Sutton of Los Alamos National Laboratory. Other Los Alamos co-authors are Drs. Anthony K. Burrell, John C. Gordon, Tessui Nakagawa and Kevin C. Ott.

While there has been much progress toward making the widespread use of hydrogen fuel cell technology practical, Dixon said other challenges remain.

“The basic three steps – the initial synthesis, the controlled release of hydrogen, and the regeneration of fuel – are actually in pretty good shape. The next piece is to get a cheap source of hydrogen that doesn’t come from coal or fossil fuels.

“The biggest hurdle which we, and everybody else in the world, are looking at is ‘how do I use solar energy efficiently to split water in order to make hydrogen and oxygen.’”

Explore further: Deconstruction of avant-garde cuisine could lead to even more fanciful dishes

Provided by University of Alabama

4 /5 (7 votes)

Related Stories

Putting the fuel in fuel cells

Sep 12, 2006

Ammonia borane holds promise as a chemical compound to store and release hydrogen in fuel cell-powered vehicles – and it appears stable enough to offset some safety concerns. These findings were presented by Pacific Northwest ...

Recommended for you

Characterizing an important reactive intermediate

20 hours ago

An international group of researchers led by Dr. Warren E. Piers (University of Calgary) and Dr. Heikki M. Tuononen (University of Jyväskylä) has been able to isolate and characterize an important chemical ...

Surfaces that communicate in bio-chemical Braille

20 hours ago

A Braille-like method that enables medical implants to communicate with a patient's cells could help reduce biomedical and prosthetic device failure rates, according to University of Sydney researchers.

New material steals oxygen from the air

Sep 30, 2014

Researchers from the University of Southern Denmark have synthesized crystalline materials that can bind and store oxygen in high concentrations. Just one spoon of the substance is enough to absorb all the ...

User comments : 10

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Eikka
3 / 5 (2) Mar 21, 2011
The biggest hurdle which we, and everybody else in the world, are looking at is how do I use solar energy efficiently to split water in order to make hydrogen and oxygen.


And when you solve that, the next question becomes: 'where do I get enough clean water to split into hydrogen and oxygen, without depleting the ground water reserves or having to desalinate seawater at an enormous energy cost.'

SteveL
1 / 5 (1) Mar 21, 2011
The biggest hurdle which we, and everybody else in the world, are looking at is how do I use solar energy efficiently to split water in order to make hydrogen and oxygen.


And when you solve that, the next question becomes: 'where do I get enough clean water to split into hydrogen and oxygen, without depleting the ground water reserves or having to desalinate seawater at an enormous energy cost.'


Likely for most world geographies we cannot - making this line of study somewhat less than practical. However, even when persuing lines of study that may lead nowhere we can still learn and add to human knowledge. I'd rather we ensure due dilligence given to potential ideas than to simply discount them due to a can't-do attitude.
88HUX88
5 / 5 (2) Mar 21, 2011
why do you need to split clean water? sea water is perfect
GSwift7
3.2 / 5 (5) Mar 21, 2011
why do you need to split clean water? sea water is perfect


Yes, any process that is viable will need to work with simple filtered sea water.

The larger problem is probably still in the logistics of Hydrogen. As it currently stands, you can't just drive a truck full of hydrogen into town, and I wouldn't want a hydrogen pipeline anywhere near my home or business. So, do you pipe seawater all over the place? Or do you create a massive infrastructure for collecting spent amonia boride and then recharge it at centralized locations then redistribute it to fuel stations? If the answers were easy we would be doing it already.
kaasinees
1.6 / 5 (7) Mar 21, 2011
I really think hydrogen is not the solution at all. It has to many issues as mentioned above.

The ultimate solution is to change how we live, so we dont need to burn thousand liters of fuel to get through one day. ( Think about transportation to work, your food, production of your food, lights etc.)

We need to create our own small communities with self-made ecosystems. This will create a happier lifestyle and decrease our footprint on earths ecosystem drasticly. Also it might boost development and evolution because we can teach our children far better.
SteveL
not rated yet Mar 22, 2011
Being an ex-Submariner (SSBN 630 Gold crew) I can tell you from experience that working with saltwater is a challenge. It is hard on equipment which will require significant maintenance. And that is just the salt, its tendancy to build up, its corrosive effect and it's hard on seals. Biologicals add another level of difficulty. Making everything from stainless steel would be incredibly expensive and most available plastics just don't stand up.

Like Gswift7 says; "If the answers were easy we would be doing it already."
GSwift7
2.8 / 5 (4) Mar 23, 2011
We need to create our own small communities with self-made ecosystems. This will create a happier lifestyle and decrease our footprint on earths ecosystem drasticly. Also it might boost development and evolution because we can teach our children far better.


That's a cute fantasy, but I don't think you have thought that through very far. Sustenance communities do not maintain a very high standard of living, and the world is moving in the opposite direction, towards globalization. Imagine, for example if all your clothes were locally made, with local materials. Do you know anybody that makes synthetic cloth or dye? How about a car? I guess you wouldn't have one. Medical care? Medical school? A computer? If you want to live in the land of "Little House on the Prarie" then feel free. There are places where you can do that right now. Go ahead and move to any of the third world countries in Africa. The magical world you want really does exist there right now. Send us a post card
unknownorgin
1 / 5 (1) Mar 26, 2011
What you end up with is an electric car. The feul cell burns hydrogen and oxygen and this produces water that is saved in a tank. outside electricty is used to split the saved water back into hydrogen and oxygen over and over. You cannot use the air in a feul cell because other gases will poison it so it is a closed system.
djr
5 / 5 (1) Mar 27, 2011
"And when you solve that, the next question becomes: 'where do I get enough clean water to split into hydrogen and oxygen, without depleting the ground water reserves or having to desalinate seawater at an enormous energy cost" A quick web search tells me that producing 1 barrell of oil takes 1875 gallons of water. http://blog.clima...ot-know/ So surely changing over to a hydrogen economy would be better in terms of water use.
kaasinees
1 / 5 (1) Mar 27, 2011
@GSwift

You misinterpreted my idea. I am not for a full localization.
I am for a localized ecosystem. You can be 90% independant.
Actually the economics would probably look similiar as they do now, they just become less an impact of your life.
The way i designed this system, living standards would actually be very much higher than they are today. Working becomes less stressfull and more flexible, crime rates would go down considerably, money becomes less important etc.

This system does not exclude that you can buy an iPhone 9000 that comes from america, it does not exclude that you can work at the local sugar factory etc.

This means that waste is immediatly recycled in the local fruit farm/fish farm. It creates a solid % workbase to maintain the community, people can watch eachothers children, health etc.

Its a mix of localization and globalization.