Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Leap Forward

The trouble with hydrogen as a replacement for fossil fuels is the energy needed to cull hydrogen usually exceeds the energy drawn out of it, which means that use of conventional energy sources like fossil fuels would actually increase in a hydrogen-energy scheme.
If only there was a way to harness a free energy source...
Now scientists from the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville have found an inexpensive semiconductor material that can split water solely using sunlight as its energy source. Their findings were published in the journal Physical Review B.
Energy independence is just a few years away.
There, um, is one other problem: As anyone who's watched the video of the Hindenburg disaster knows, hydrogen is not only flammable, not only inflammable, it's combustible and highly reactive.
Storage becomes an issue. Now, for most cars, say, not so much. A hole in a gas tank, for example, would be less of a problem than you might imagine because hydrogen is lighter than air and the explosion would rise nearly straight up. An explosion in a gas tank is a different story, but that's an engineering question.
It's the storage, like those large tanks at refineries, that becomes the real issue. Oil won't burn unless it's exposed to air (technically, it's the petroleum vapors that burn). Hydrogen does not have this feature, so it needs to be bonded to something, but that something has to be easily disposed of or the hydrogen easily extracted from, as needed for use.
Also, hydrogen is the slut of the atomic world: it can bond with practically anything. It's almost as bad as carbon. It makes separating it really hard.
But...once more...scientitians come to the rescue this week:
Not to worry, because researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) have come up with a way to safely store hydrogen in a harmless chemical material. Their research was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
So fuel cells are on their way.