Portable tech might provide drinking water, power to villages

May 03, 2011 by Emil Venere
A cartoon illustrates the potential uses of a new theoretical type of mobile technology that would use an aluminum alloy to convert non-potable water into drinking water while also extracting hydrogen to generate electricity. Such a lightweight, portable system might be used to provide power and drinking water to villages and also for military operations. Credit: Jerry Woodall, Purdue University

Researchers have developed an aluminum alloy that could be used in a new type of mobile technology to convert non-potable water into drinking water while also extracting hydrogen to generate electricity.

Such a technology might be used to provide power and drinking water to villages and also for military operations, said Jerry Woodall, a Purdue University distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering.

The alloy contains aluminum, gallium, indium and tin. Immersing the alloy in freshwater or saltwater causes a spontaneous reaction, splitting the water into hydrogen and . The hydrogen could then be fed to a to generate electricity, producing water in the form of steam as a byproduct, he said.

"The steam would kill any bacteria contained in the water, and then it would condense to purified water," Woodall said. "So, you are converting undrinkable water to ."

Because the technology works with saltwater, it might have marine applications, such as powering boats and robotic . The technology also might be used to desalinate water, said Woodall, who is working with doctoral student Go Choi.

A patent on the design is pending.

Woodall envisions a new portable technology for regions that aren't connected to a , such as villages in Africa and other remote areas.

"There is a big need for this sort of technology in places lacking connectivity to a power grid and where potable water is in short supply," he said. "Because aluminum is a low-cost, non-hazardous metal that is the third-most abundant metal on Earth, this technology promises to enable a global-scale potable water and , especially for off-grid and remote locations."

The potable water could be produced for about $1 per gallon, and electricity could be generated for about 35 cents per kilowatt hour of energy.

"There is no other technology to compare it against, economically, but it's obvious that 34 cents per kilowatt hour is cheap compared to building a power plant and installing power lines, especially in remote areas," Woodall said.

The unit, including the alloy, the reactor and fuel cell might weigh less than 100 pounds.

"You could drop the alloy, a small reaction vessel and a fuel cell into a remote area via parachute," Woodall said. "Then the reactor could be assembled along with the fuel cell. The polluted water or the seawater would be added to the reactor and the reaction converts the aluminum and into aluminum hydroxide, heat and hydrogen gas on demand."

The aluminum hydroxide waste is non-toxic and could be disposed of in a landfill.

The researchers have a design but haven't built a prototype.

Explore further: Fossil fuels at what price? EU analysis looks at energy costs

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Al3313
2 / 5 (1) May 03, 2011
Is today April Fools? This year's igNobel top candidate maybe? Hmmm... Let me ask a few rather rhetorical questions: Where would the fuel required for two-way air transport come from? Are we assuming some sort of free, out of the blue sky fuel? Where would the smelter fuel/energy come from? Is it again assumed to be free? How many wind turbines would be needed to produce one gallon of water a day and one kilowatt of fuel cell power in our remote village?
I urge Mr Woodall and his doctoral student to consult with _any_ undergraduate in the Chemical Engineering department (they have a pretty good one over at Purdue and they're all kind, decent people!). Maybe someone will find the time to explain to the Distinguished Professor the basic concepts of energy efficiency of a process, and maybe the simple mathematics of subunitary numbers.
KWZ
not rated yet May 04, 2011
What is the output?? How many GPH? and what is the power output? Yes, a revolutionary device can power an LED and give all the necessary drinking water for 1/2 of a person! I like the idea but more facts would be nice.
socean
not rated yet May 04, 2011
I want one of these for my off-grid house in Hawaii.
Sean_W
1 / 5 (1) May 04, 2011
It is a similar concept to flying in gas to run a generator and water still. Some of the aspects would be cleaner (though aluminum is described as "non-toxic" it needs to be kept out of small ecosystems which is why many nations require geologists to consult on road projects so they know if fractured local rock is safe to reuse on site as fill) and cheaper, some would not be (at present).

If this was going to be competing with gas generators and stills without subsidies and regulatory meddling I would be fine with it but what are the chances of that? Slim to none and Slim just got hit by a falling fuel cell.
Newbeak
not rated yet May 04, 2011
$1 a gallon is pretty pricy water,especially for a third world user..