How a thrilling new aluminium product will kick-start the hydrogen economy
As respected aluminium extrusion suppliers and aluminium plate suppliers we’re always interested to hear the latest news about innovative uses for the versatile metal we sell tonnes and tonnes of every year. So we were thrilled to discover a novel aluminium alloy that reacts with water in a new way, an alloy that might just bring the world’s long-awaited fledgling hydrogen economy to life.
An unexpected reaction
The discovery was initially made back in January 2017, at the US Army Research Laboratory in Maryland, where scientists were busy working on a new, high-strength alloy. Part of the everyday testing regime involves pouring water on new alloys, and when the team carried out the test the alloy began unexpectedly bubbling, actually giving off hydrogen, something aluminium doesn’t usually do. The metal usually oxidises fast when exposed to water, building up a barrier that soon stops the reaction in its tracks.
Why is the new aluminium alloy so exciting?,
If it lives up to its potential, the new alloy could provide a convenient source of hydrogen for fuel cells that’s also easy to transport, something that has so far eluded scientists. In fact it has the potential to totally change the energy market, delivering a solid, reliable alternative to both batteries and liquid fuel.
Better still, the science allows extremely small and compact systems to be created, vital when you need a system that will either be very light or work for long periods using hydrogen, in situations where you can’t store the gas in a cylinder.
The new alloy is made from a very dense powder of micron-scale aluminium grains and at least one other metal, all arranged in a unique nano-structure. Adding water creates a massive amount of aluminium oxide, doing so at almost 100% efficiency in less than three minutes. It beats lithium batteries hands down, delivering at least one order of magnitude more energy than the same weight in lithium batteries. And there’s more. Unlike batteries, it always remains stable and ready for use.
Clean, green and cheap – a real game-changer
We’ve known for a long time that hydrogen has the potential to become a clean, ‘green’ fuel, but its sheer bulk meant it was tricky to store and even harder to transport. Now the new alloy has been discovered, it’s hoped that aluminium can be made to react with water very effectively indeed, which in turn means we ought to be able to make the gas on demand, since aluminium and water are easy to transport and stable.
Better still, the reaction happens without the need for either high temperatures or catalysts. No wonder the team is busy patenting the process – it looks like it’ll be an incredible game-changer.
World-changing stuff – And it’s easy to scale up production
The scientists behind the discovery believe scaling production up won’t be a problem either, since the alloy can easily be made from cheap scrap or recycled aluminium. It looks like the revolutionary powder could be used for 3D printing, for small robots and drones that use their own bodies as fuel, and could eventually provide clean, low cost power to run everything from computers to cars.
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