By adding aluminium oxide, the team was able to achieve an acceleration of the natural process of producing the gas from the well-known rock olivine and water. If successfully applied on a global scale, the method will give a huge boost to the clean energy industry, providing solution to the only limitation associated with the use of hydrogen fuel cells.
There is no doubt that the demand for hydrogen to be used in fuel cells is very high. Scientists and engineers are eagerly searching for feasible and at the same time much cheaper ways to generate the precious gas as the global energy needs as well as the carbon concentrations in the atmosphere keep increasing. Existing techniques require extremely high temperatures and a huge amount of energy in order to separate hydrogen from natural gas or to split the water molecule, making the process very expensive.
As part of the Deep Carbon Observatory, a 10-year international project, which involves scientists from 40 different countries, a French team from University Claude Bernard Lyon, decided to look into natural systems that produce hydrogen and see if they can do something about making the process a marketable option. They noted that at great depth, reactions between rocks and water under high temperature and pressure, produce geologic hydrogen, which is then used to provide energy to various ecosystems.
The team decided to replicate the process under laboratory conditions, and tested different substances that could serve as a catalyst to the reaction. After numerous experiments, they established that when aluminium oxide is added, the process of producing hydrogen when water meets olivine at depth occurred fifty times faster than without it.
Although bringing this process to the market seems to be quite a long way away, the great demand for hydrogen is likely to speed this up. The new technology will be presented at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco taking place this week. The researchers already published their preliminary report in the journal American Mineralogist.
With governments putting higher taxes on vehicle emissions, hydrogen vehicles are becoming more and more popular. The models Honda FXC Clarity and Mercedes-Benz F-Cell, are selling rapidly, and it is only a matter of time until other car manufacturers release their competing products. Hopefully soon the findings of the French team will be put into practice, making the clean green vehicles much more affordable.
Image (c) Deep Carbon Observatory