Purdue researchers demonstrate their method for producing hydrogen by adding water to an alloy of aluminum and gallium. The hydrogen could then be used to run an internal combustion engine. The reaction was discovered by Jerry Woodall, center, a distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering. The method makes it unnecessary to store or transport hydrogen - two major challenges in creating a hydrogen economy, said Jerry Woodall, a distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue who invented the process. The hydrogen is generated on demand, so you only produce as much as you need when you need it," said Woodall, who presented research findings detailing how the system works during a recent energy symposium at Purdue.
The technology could be used to drive small internal combustion engines in various applications, including portable emergency generators, lawn mowers and chain saws. The process could, in theory, also be used to replace gasoline for cars and trucks, he said.
Hydrogen is generated spontaneously when water is added to pellets of the alloy, which is made of aluminum and a metal called gallium. The researchers have shown how hydrogen is produced when water is added to a small tank containing the pellets. Hydrogen produced in such a system could be fed directly to an engine, such as those on lawn mowers.
"When water is added to the pellets, the aluminum in the solid alloy reacts because it has a strong attraction to the oxygen in the water," Woodall said.
This reaction splits the oxygen and hydrogen contained in water, releasing hydrogen in the process.
The gallium is critical to the process because it hinders the formation of a skin normally created on aluminum's surface after oxidation. This skin usually prevents oxygen from reacting with aluminum, acting as a barrier. Preventing the skin's formation allows the reaction to continue until all of the aluminum is used.