350 Miles on $28? Just Add Aluminum Gallium Alloy and Water


Researchers at Purdue University (they always provide the best pictures) have refined a technique using aluminum gallium alloy (80% aluminum, 20% gallium), to wrestle hydrogen from water. The liberated hydrogen can be used on-site in a combustion engine, or even better, in a fuel cell. The advantage of this technology is that it removes the complications related to storing hydrogen as a gas, instead you simply add water.

The research, conducted by Jerry Woodall, Charles Allen and Jeffrey Ziebarthare, will be presented on Sept. 7 during the 2nd Energy Nano-technology International Conference in Santa Clara, California.

"It's a simple matter to convert ordinary internal combustion engines to run on hydrogen. All you have to do is replace the gasoline fuel injector with a hydrogen injector," Woodall said.

Woodall is exuberant about the possibilities, including a wide variety of applications from zero emission idling trucks, to whole hog replacement of energy for nuclear submarines.

"One reason maritime applications are especially appealing is that you don't have to haul water," Woodall said.

But back to the cars-

"Since standard industrial technology could be used to recycle our nearly pure alumina back to aluminum at 20 cents per pound, this technology would be competitive with gasoline," Woodall said. "Using aluminum, it would cost $70 at wholesale prices to take a 350-mile trip with a mid-size car equipped with a standard internal combustion engine. That compares with $66 for gasoline at $3.30 per gallon. If we used a 50 percent efficient fuel cell, taking the same trip using aluminum would cost $28."

Woodall has also given some thinking to how this product can be recycled, and used as part of an industrial system.

"This technology is feasible for commercial use," Woodall said. "The waste alumina can be recycled back into aluminum, and low-cost gallium is available as a waste product from companies that produce aluminum from the raw mineral bauxite. Enough aluminum exists in the United States to produce 100 trillion kilowatt hours of energy. That's enough energy to meet all the U.S. electric needs for 35 years. If impure gallium can be made for less than $10 a pound and used in an onboard system, there are enough known gallium reserves to run 1 billion cars."

It is not a silver bullet to our energy needs, but it may be an important part of our future energy systems. Of the four critical aspects of any energy system (Collection, Transmission, Storage, and Use) this technology has the potential to reach into many areas, disrupting current technologies and possibly creating a more sustainable future.

:: Purdue News