Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Nanoparticles could make hydrogen cheaper than gasoline

The hydrogen economy is getting a shot in the arm from a start-up that says its nanoparticle coatings could make hydrogen easy to produce at home from distilled water, and ultimately bring the cost of hydrogen fuel cells in line with that of fossil fuels.
QuantumSphere Inc. says it has perfected the manufacture of highly reactive catalytic nanoparticle coatings that could up the efficiency of electrolysis, the technique that generates hydrogen from water. Moreover, the coatings could also eliminate the need for expensive metals like platinum in hydrogen fuel cells.

Boasting 1,000 times the surface area of traditional materials, the coatings can be used to retrofit existing electrolysers to increase their efficiency to 85 percent--exceeding the Department of Energy's goal for 2010 by 10 percent. The scheme holds the promise of 96 percent efficiency by the time cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells hit automobile showrooms, according to the Santa Ana, Calif., company.

"Instead of switching 170,000 gas stations over to hydrogen, using our electrodes could enable consumers to make their own hydrogen, either in the garage or right on the vehicle," said Kevin Maloney, president, chief executive officer and co-founder of QuantumSphere. "Our nanoparticle-coated electrodes make electrolysers efficient enough to provide hydrogen on demand from a tank of distilled water in your car."

The first commercial product inspired by QuantumSphere's technology will debut later this year: a battery using a cathode coated with the startup's nanoparticles, thereby increasing its energy density 5x over alkaline cells and boosting power by 320 percent. The first commercial nonrechargeable batteries with this increased capacity will be announced by an as-yet-unnamed major U.S. battery maker in the second half of 2008.

QuantumSphere also claims to be able to improve rechargeable nickel-metal-hydride batteries to the point where they perform better than the less environmentally friendly lithium-ion batteries popular today.

QuantumSphere's plan is first to retrofit existing electrolysis equipment with its nanoparticle electrodes to boost efficiency. Next, it intends to partner with original equipment manufacturers to design at-home and on-vehicle electrolysers for making hydrogen from water for fuel cells. Finally, the company wants to work with fuel cell makers to replace their expensive platinum electrodes with inexpensive stainless-steel electrodes coated with nickel-iron nanoparticles.

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