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Hydrogen Fuel Production Costs Could Decrease with New Materials

Iron Oxide for Cheaper Solar Hydrogen Fuel Production
Iron Oxide for Cheaper Solar Hydrogen Fuel Production

As automakers improve their technology to reduce emissions, one technology that’s slowly coming to fruition is the hydrogen fuel cell. The fuel itself is another matter.

In fact, we’ve seen a number of hydrogen fuel cell vehicle prototypes, some of which could be on the road as soon as 2015, in spite of the fact that some believe it’ll be at least another decade. The technology is sound, but still moderately expensive, due to the necessity for some very expensive materials that enable the hydrogen fuel cell to generate electricity from the flow of hydrogen electrons. Improving the technology has helped to reduce costs, such that the Toyota FCV-R, for example, could start as low as $50,000. That’s expensive for a small sedan, but pretty reasonable for hydrogen fuel cell technology.

OK, so the automakers have gotten down the manufacture of the vehicle, and we could see it soon, but what about the generation of the hydrogen fuel itself? Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, themselves, don’t produce any emissions, other than water vapor. On the other hand, hydrogen fuel production could be emissions-free, using solar power, but researchers are, again, running up against cost and efficiency problems with the process. The materials that enable the hydrogen fuel cell to convert hydrogen fuel into electricity and water are the same materials that enable the reaction converting water into hydrogen and oxygen gases, using the power of the sun.

The problem, at the moment, is that the catalyst materials required for solar-powered hydrogen fuel production, not electrolysis, but direct reaction, is too expensive. University of Wisconsin at Madison (UWM) researchers believe that, if hydrogen fuel is to compete with electric vehicles and conventional vehicles, they really need to boost efficiency and reduce the costs. Kyoung-Shin Choi, UWM professor of chemistry, and Tae Woo Kim, postdoctoral researcher, recently turned to oxide-based catalysts, iron oxide (rust) and nickel oxide, plated on bismuth vanadate. The resulting solar hydrogen fuel generator is far cheaper than rare-earth-metal-based catalysts, and is 1.7% efficient, the highest efficiency reported for any oxide-based system. With a little more research, this cheap technology could effect the future of clean hydrogen fuel production at a cost comparable or better than conventional fuels.

Image By FK1954 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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  1. Platinum is by far the most effective element used for PEM fuel cell catalysts, and nearly all current PEM fuel cells use platinum particles on porous carbon supports to catalyze both hydrogen oxidation and oxygen reduction. However, due to their high cost, current Pt/C catalysts are not feasible for commercialization. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that platinum-based catalysts will need to use roughly four times less platinum than is used in current PEM fuel cell designs in order to represent a realistic alternative to internal combustion engines. Consequently, one main goal of catalyst design for PEM fuel cells is to increase the catalytic activity of platinum by a factor of four so that only one-fourth as much of the precious metal is necessary to achieve similar performance.

  2. GlobeCoreBlending  The answer for a real Hydrogen Economy is production on site for use on demand. We have the prototype. Who is interested to join us for production?

  3. LoneWolffe Syringa2014  Many high rank scientists know a lot of theory but less practice (i.e. how many Nobel Prize laureates for Economy are multi billioners?)  Sen me a private e-mail address to give you some more details.

  4. GlobeCoreBlending  sorry i missed your comment. thanks for the information. biofuels seem like they could be the best interim fuel until we can get rid of the internal combustion engine. on the other hand, i think big money (oil companies) are stifling the full potential of biofuels, whether spark-ignition or compression-ignition. we need to get more people on board with the idea to take away the power that big oil has over our fuels, emissions, and future.

  5. Syringa2014  yeah, we’ve covered it on this site a couple of times, actually. this post was pointing out the specific catalyst developed via research at the University of Wisconsin

  6. For improvement of cars operations quality it is necessary to provide fuel upgrading, stage-by-stage transition from supplying regular gasoline to supplying of alternative fuel. Formation of such system has to occur on the basis of scientific achievements and available experience of alternative fuel use. The most available and widespread today among rare species of fuel for engines with injection and catalytic converter is biofuel, in particular bioethanol. Bioethanol fuel has many positive properties, as a rule it use as an additive to gasoline. Research of bioethanol additives influence to gasoline based on ecological indicators and fuel profitability of the cars equipped with injection system of gasoline and converters of fulfilled gases, and rational use of gasoline with various in size additives of bioethanol make an essence of dissertation work. Globecore blending company is intended in production of fuel blending systems….


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