Aluminum Alloy+Water: Fuel Cells on Demand

Science and industry have long seen abundant hydrogen as a clean, green fuel, a promising alternative to fossil fuels to power cars, planes and boats, buildings and almost any portable device that normally uses batteries.

fuel cells

Hydrogen contains almost three times as much energy as natural gas.  An engine that burns pure hydrogen produces almost no pollution. NASA has used liquid hydrogen since the 1970s to send the space shuttle and other rockets into orbit, and hydrogen fuel cells power the shuttle’s electrical systems, producing only clean water as a byproduct.

A 2004 analysis asserted that “most of the hydrogen supply chain pathways would release significantly less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than would gasoline used in hybrid electric vehicles.” (Wikipedia)

But unlike oil and gas, hydrogen is not a fuel. It is a method of storing or transporting energy.  Hydrogen has to be made–by extracting it from fossil fuels, or using electricity to separate it from water–before it can be used.  Hydrogen is also difficult to store, because of its bulk, and hydrogen fuel cells represent high capital costs (about $5,500/kw in 2002), creating another major obstacle to their development and widespread use.

Now a new discovery–a unique aluminum alloy can remain stable indefinitelfuel tank that reacts with water–accidentally hit upon by scientists, may lead to the revival of the “hydrogen economy,” and a transformation of the energy market, offering a convenient, portable source of hydrogen for fuel cells among other applications.

Researchers at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, U.S, found that pouring water on a new, high-strength aluminum alloy caused
it to start bubbling as it gave off hydrogen. Normally, when exposed to water, aluminum quickly oxidizes, forming a protective barrier that ends further reaction. But this alloy continued to react. If aluminum could be made to react with water, hydrogen fueleffectively and economically on a scalable basis (both aluminum and water are stable and easily transportable), it would mean ‘hydrogen on demand.’


The aluminum alloy, now in the process of being patented, is made of a dense powder of micron-scale grains of aluminum and one or more other metals arranged in a particular nanostructure.  When water is added it produces aluminum oxide or hydroxide and large quantities of hydrogen.  “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. discovery-3These 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.  And the new material, which , offers at least an order of magnitude more energy than lithium batteries of the same weight.



Watch video about this new energy source at:


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