Chemical Engineer Can Transform Water Into Hydrogen Fuel
Wouldn’t it be great if you could fill up a water bottle in the sink, walk out to your car, then pour in some water and have it power the car? Science fiction, right? Sort of. Dan Esposito, a chemical engineer at Columbia University in New York, created a device that can so something similar.
What Esposito does is take his new energy-generating device and put it under a halogen light. He fills it with salt water, which looks like a black pot with multiple solar panels. As he wires up the panels to the electrodes in the salt water, bubbles begin to form around the electrodes. This is his solar-powered gadget that extracts hydrogen from water. The pot merely holds the water, but the lid to it is the real technology.
Since something so small couldn’t possibly power anything big, the actual device will be thousands of times bigger than the prototype. He hopes one day to have a bigger version floating on the ocean doing the same thing to generate power, albeit at a vastly bigger scale.
“So far, we only did it in lab settings,” explains Esposito. “But it is a conceptual prototype.”
Carbon-based fossil fuels generate power, but that power also comes at a cost of releasing carbon dioxide. Hydrogen gas has the benefit of not releasing any emissions. It’s a zero-emission fuel. Will there be people who downplay the tech because it’s not burning fossil fuels? There always is, but the US Department of Energy says that a hydrogen fuel cell with an electric motor is 2-3x more efficient than that of a gasoline engine.
If you’ve ever watch sci-fi movies from the past 50 years, the biggest technological achievement in power would be extracting hydrogen safely from methane of water.
Hydrogen can be extracted from fresh water more easily, but when it comes to abundance, the salt water that covers the planet is way in excess to that of our precious fresh water.
Scientists have been trying to master the science of extracting hydrogen for over 100 years. They haven’t really been met with much success on this front until fairly recently.
“Magnesium and calcium ions precipitate and clog the pores of the membranes, and the microbes and other life forms attach to them,” Esposito explains. “You can purify them, but it adds cost.”
What Esposito and his peers created is the first of its kinda membrane-free hydrogen rig. The electrodes make the hydrogen and oxygen face away from each other. When the charge is added, hydrogen will collect on the negative electrode, while oxygen will stick to the positive one.
This action, if you paid attention in science class, separate the water molecules and prevents that from combining again. As this occurs, that hydrogen is collected into a separate container while the oxygen is harmlessly released into the air
“If we wanted to use offshore hydrogen production to replace all the oil used in the world today, the floating rigs would have to cover only a tiny fraction of the world’s ocean—about 162,000 square kilometers,” Esposito says. “That’s slightly smaller than Florida, and bigger than New York State—or about 0.032 percent of our globe’s surface. That’s all you need to power the planet with seawater and sun.”
Here’s a glimpse at the oxygen and hydrogen separating in the device:
(Via Hakai Magazine)
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Jeff Sorensen is an author, writer and occasional comedian living in Detroit, Michigan. You can look for more of his work on The Huffington Post, UPROXX, BGR, ScreenRant, and by just looking up his name.