Researchers create new way to power electric cars

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A team of UMass Lowell researchers has pioneered a new, more efficient way to power electric vehicles.

The innovation, developed by Chemistry Department Chairman Prof. David Ryan and a group of UMass Lowell students, will enable of all sizes to run longer while maintaining zero emissions. The new technology uses water, carbon dioxide and the metal cobalt to produce on demand at a relatively low temperature and pressure.

Most electric vehicles on the road today rely on batteries that must be charged, but come with limitations such as , time needed to recharge and cost, according to Ryan. As a result, current technology is practical only for small cars and not for larger vehicles, including trucks and buses. In contrast, the UMass Lowell team's invention could be used to power vehicles of all sizes.

In an electric vehicle, the hydrogen created by the team's method would go directly to a , where it would mix with oxygen from the atmosphere to generate electricity and water. The electricity would then power the system that operates the vehicle's motor, and headlights.

"This process doesn't store any hydrogen gas, so it's safe and poses no transportation issues, greatly minimizing the possibility of a fire or explosion," Ryan said.

The technology generates hydrogen that is more than 95 percent pure, he added.

"Hydrogen burns completely clean; it produces no , only water. And, you don't have to burn hydrogen to generate electricity. Hydrogen can be used in fuel cells, in which it combines with oxygen from the air to produce electricity at up to 85 percent efficiency," Ryan said.

With increasing demand for , the hydrogen market is poised to grow to an estimated $199 billion over the next four years, according to industry watchers.

"Since hydrogen is not mined or pumped out the ground like fossil fuels, we have to produce it. Current methods of doing that are expensive and inefficient. This, coupled with the lack of needed infrastructure, has hampered the transition from a petroleum to a hydrogen economy," said Ryan. "Our hope is that the catalytic technology we have developed would help solve all of these challenges."

Working with Ryan, who is from Reading, are Ph.D. candidates in chemistry Ahmed Jawhari of Lowell, Kehley Davies of Boston and Elizabeth Farrell of Marblehead; and Colleen Ahern of Braintree, an undergraduate chemical engineering major and Honors College student.

The researchers have been awarded a provisional patent and are awaiting a full patent on the technology. In addition to support from UMass Lowell, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center has provided the team with $25,000 in seed funding to help take the invention from the lab to the marketplace.


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Mar 22, 2019
A non starter. Strange that there is no mention of conversion efficiency or where the original energy input is to come from.

Mar 22, 2019
A non starter. Strange that there is no mention of conversion efficiency or where the original energy input is to come from.

Mar 22, 2019
What source of energy? This is hydrogen from water and CO2 with a cobalt catalyst. Did you bother to read the article?

Mar 22, 2019
Might want to read the original UMass Lowell press release. It gives more information: https://www.massa...en-power

Mar 22, 2019
What source of energy? This is hydrogen from water and CO2 with a cobalt catalyst. Did you bother to read the article?


Source of energy is missing. Neither water nor CO2 nor a cobalt catalyst is a source of energy.

Mar 22, 2019
Might want to read the original UMass Lowell press release. It gives more information: https://www.massa...en-power


In this case the source of energy seems to be cobalt. They are literally burning cobalt into cobalt oxide to power the car. You need new canisters of cobalt to keep the car running, instead of fuel or batteries.

Could be promising, I wonder what energy density, cost and environmental impact of widespread cobalt use would be tough..

Mar 22, 2019
There is no way that the complete chain from powerplant to hydrogen and back is more efficient than going via batteries. That would break a couple of laws of physics.

Hydrogen is a no-go for several other reasons as well:

Infrastructure: You can't mandate a (hugely expensive) worldwide hydrogen infrastructure. Until you do, such cars would only be viable in places where people stay within their nations' borders (e.g. Japan or the US). If you want to use a car to travel - i.e. vast range over a single day (which is the only use case where hydrogen beats batteries) - then crossing borders is likely in many parts of the world.

Another thing I'm often wondering about: Where does the water go? Will we have perpetually wet/slippery roads (or even icy ones in winter) if everyone switches to a hydrogen car?
It's not like in ICE cars where the water from the combustion is released mostly as water vapor as fuel cells run at lower temperatures.

Mar 22, 2019
In link provided by Da Schneib they say that the cobalt oxide is then reconverted to cobalt carbonate (which requires a concentrated source of CO2).

So instead of using a very inefficient hydrogen cycle they are using an *even more* inefficient cycle where they first reduce cobalt which then makes the hydrogen and leaves cobalt oxide.

The only thing they are 'winning' in this is that hydrogen storage is replaced by cobalt storage and water (i.e. a marginal benefit to safety at an atrocious extra energy cost)

There is no way in any universe where this beats out battery electric on...anything (particularly not on dollars per mile range).

Maybe a way to store energy long term without having to compress/cool hydrogen?
But the amount of cobalt carbonate you'd need would be huge - and cobalt ain't cheap (about twice the price of lithium per metric ton).

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