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Army Research Lab discovers aluminum nanomaterial rapidly splits water on contact

3 August 2017

Researchers at the US Army Research Laboratory (ARL) have discovered that a nano-galvanic aluminum-based powder of their design splits water on contact, producing hydrogen and oxygen. Scientists have known for a long time that hydrogen can be produced by adding a catalyst—such as sodium or potassium hydroxide or an acid—to aluminum. However, these methods take time, elevated temperature, and added electricity.

The ARL powder does not need a catalyst; it is also very fast. “We have calculated that one kilogram of aluminum powder can produce 220 kW of energy in just three minutes. That’s a lot of power to run any electrical equipment. These rates are the fastest known without using catalysts such as an acid, base or elevated temperatures,” said Dr. Anit Giri, a physicist with the lab’s Weapons and Materials Research Directorate.

That metric doubles if you consider the amount of heat energy produced by the exothermic reaction, Giri said.

The team demonstrated a small radio-controlled tank powered by the powder/water reaction. Moments after mixing the powder with to a small amount of water, a bubbling reaction produced a great deal of hydrogen, which was then used to power the model around the laboratory.

We just take our material, put it in the water and the water splits down into hydrogen and oxygen. There are other researchers who have been searching their whole lives and their optimized product takes many hours to achieve, say 50 percent efficiency. Ours does it to nearly 100 percent efficiency in less than three minutes.

—Scott Grendahl, a materials engineer and team leader

Because the nanomaterial powder has the potential to be 3-D printed, researchers envision future air and ground robots that can feed off of their very structures and self-destruct after mission completion.

Researchers said one possible application of the discovery that may help future soldiers is the potential to recharge mobile devices for recon teams.

These teams are out for a short number of days, three to five days, and a lot of that depends not only on their food supplies, but on how long their supplies last in terms of their equipment and right now that stems from lithium batteries. If we can recharge those batteries, they can stay out longer.

—Scott Grendahl

The next steps are to document the discovery with papers and intellectual property protections, some of which are ongoing, and to coordinate further applications with scientists and engineers across the laboratory.

We all feel pretty good that this can contribute to a new kind of research to generate power at ease and at will.

—Anit Giri

August 3, 2017 in Hydrogen, Hydrogen Production, Materials | Permalink | Comments (9)


"220 kW of energy in just three minutes."

kW is not a measure of energy but power, kWh is energy.

Im ready to buy a new small car that cost almost nothing in fuel cost. I knew that engineer-poet and harvyd solutions were not good,

Very interesting approach to produce clean H2 + Heat directly at the points of need/distribution.

Wonder what the total NET efficiency (including the production of nano aluminium material) will be?

This could become one way to produce lower cost H2 for near future FCEVs.

I think it could be a good emergency generator to get you home in an emergency - especially if the AL "keeps" well.
Very handy in things like torpedoes and single use weapons / emergency gear.

This is not going to be a cheap or energy efficient system to make Hydrogen. As mahonj suggests, it might be useful for emergency power generation and for weapon systems. It is an Army Research Lab project.

Efficiency probably some small part of 1%.
Would make for interesting firecrackers.

Congratulations to Grendahl, Giri and team. Very impressive breakthrough.

I'm inclined to agree with Harvey, heat production might be an interesting application.

If your EV needs an expensive fuel cell stack to take advantage of this energy carrier, its going to be difficult to be price competitive with BEVs and PHEVs.

If, on the other hand, a couple of kgs of powder or rods (presumably in cartridges) which can produce copious heat on demand for cabin and battery conditioning, the battery offset could make this a very interesting option.

Maybe this is the technology that puts concerns about needing to survive under a snow bank for a few days to rest.

This is obviously very inefficient.
"Metric doubles if you consider... exothermic reaction"
So, oxidation of Al + H2O --> AlO3 + H2. Results in 50% H2 chemical energy and 50% heat. Then the H2 needs to be oidized in a fuelcell to produce electricity. Then the AlO3 needs to be reduced again to Al + O2, then the Al needs to be transormed to the nanomaterial again.
This all has to be organized so that a custommer can return the AlO3 and buy the regenerated Al powder.....

Good for military or other "single use" applications. Never for cars...

Many posters may have to broaden their acceptance level for near future:

1) improved (above 800 wh/kg) ultra quick charge, longer lasting, much lower cost batteries.

2) improved charging facilities @ 800+ Volts and 400+ KW).

3) much lower cost, higher efficiency, fully automated mass produced FCs, without precious metals.

4) higher efficiency, lower cost electrolysers to produce lower cost clean H2 (below $3,50/Kg) from excess-surplus REs.

5) much lower cost extended range BEVs and FCEVs.

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