Scientists discover quick recipe for producing hydrogen
9 December 2013
Scientists at the University Claude Bernard Lyon have discovered a simple process for producing copious volumes of hydrogen. The researchers will present a paper on the discovery at the American Geophysical Union’s annual Fall Meeting in San Francisco this week.
In a microscopic high-pressure cooker called a diamond anvil cell (within a tiny space about as wide as a pencil lead), Muriel Andreani, Isabelle Daniel, and Marion Pollet-Villard combined aluminum oxide, water, and the mineral olivine. After 24 hours at 200 to 300 degrees Celsius and 2 kilobars pressure—comparable to conditions found at twice the depth of the deepest ocean—they produced hydrogen.
Dr. Daniel explains that when water meets the ubiquitous mineral olivine under pressure, the rock reacts with oxygen (O) atoms from the H2O, transforming olivine into another mineral, serpentine. The process also leaves hydrogen molecules separated from oxygen atoms in water.
Finding the reaction completed in the micro space overnight instead of over months as expected was a surprise. The experiments produced H2 some 7 to 50 times faster than the natural “serpentinization” of olivine.
Scaling this up to meet global energy needs in a carbon-free way would probably require 50 years. But a growing market for hydrogen in fuel cells could help pull the process into the market.—Jesse Ausubel of The Rockefeller University and a founder of Deep Carbon Observatory
Dr. Daniel noted that until now it has been a scientific mystery how the rock + water + pressure formula produces enough hydrogen to support such an abundance of chemical-loving microbial and other forms of life abounding in the hostile environments of the deep.
We believe the serpentinization process may be underway on many planetary bodies—notably Mars.—DR. Isabelle Daniel
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