Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, but it can be difficult and costly to get at the raw gaseous stuff, at least in the kind of commercial volumes that could sustainably fuel a hydrogen economy. But researchers at the DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have made a substantial leap toward a hydrogen-based future by devising a cheap, metal catalyst that can split hydrogen gas from water.
The ability to pull apart H2O molecules into their constituent atoms is, of course, the key to creating a hydrogen-based energy economy. If we can do so in a cheap and energy efficient manner, we could potentially turn Earth's vast supply of water into our own vast supply of cheap, clean power.
But most hydrogen gas on earth comes packaged as natural gas -- a carbon-based fuel -- or packed into water, which can be split into oxygen and hydrogen through a process called electrolysis. Electrolysis requires a good deal of electricity, but if renewable fuels generate that power the process can be carbon neutral. What it can't be is cheap; electrolysis requires a catalyst to split water into oxygen and hydrogen gas, the most common of which is platinum, which retails at some $2,000 per ounce.
Seeking to drive the cost of electrolysis down to more reasonable levels, the Berkeley Lab team devised a high-valence metal they're calling Mo-oxo for molybdenum-oxo (PY5Me2, for you chem. geeks out there). The catalyst requires no additional organic additives or solvents, can operate in neutral water (even if it's dirty) and works with sea water -- meaning we could literally be looking at oceans of cheap energy. Best of all: Mo-oxo is about 70 times cheaper than platinum.
Don't expect to see Mo-oxo splitting seawater into large volumes of hydrogen gas right away. The research is still preliminary and the Berkeley team is just getting into some of the more exciting chemistry. They're looking for additional similar metals that might generate hydrogen gas at even higher efficiency, so by the time this kind of tech is commercialized we may have found an even better catalyst. In the meantime, Mo-oxo marks a sort of corner-turning for water electrolysis. Any great shift to non-carbon fuels is ultimately going to be driven by economics, and finding less expensive ways to generate hydrogen gas is integral to kicking off that sea change.
Since when is the term 'cheap' interchangeable with 'inexpensive'?
Cheap by definition denotes poor quality, not low cost.
If PopSci is going to let anyone write articles for the web, at least hire someone with a grasp of our language. To be fair to the author; it is the jackass editor who is to blame here.
No one will learn anything if they are consistently fed poorly written information.
Why do we have to wait till they find a better catalyst before this becomes commercialized. You already said its 70% cheaper so why dont they commercialize it while continuing to research and when something better comes along then just replace it.
I mean if its already that much of a improvement, commercializing it could fund even more research into the field.
I always read about all these great improvements but they dont get commercialized until decades later because researching is a never ending process.
Things can forever be improved, so if you find even a small improvement you should implement it into society otherwise your just holding back progress.
Actually, cheap means inexpensive. Coming from the Oxford English Dictionary, cheap means "That may be bought at small cost; bearing a relatively low price; inexpensive." This is opposed to the slang "cheap-and-nasty" which means of poor quality or undesirable.
Granted, definition 4b mentions that it might be "worthless; paltry," but, I think that the author is correct in using cheap and inexpensive synonymously.
cheap [ cheep ]
1. costing little: low in price or cost, or lower in price than might reasonably be expected
2. charging little: charging low prices but offering good value
3. poor quality: inexpensive and of poor quality
Otherwise an interesting article
The word cheap was never intended to denote cost. It was only added to the definition and thus became the main definition after it became fashionable to use it incorrectly in street vernacular.
I guess my gripe is somewhat unfounded as languages change daily; English included. Can not hold onto the past with everything I suppose.
My apologies Clay. Editors of PopSci should still be expunged from the staff though.
I second some of the comments here. Is it ready or not?
A 70 percent cheaper catalyst should hit the market immediately.
H2 from water cheaply?
Glad this works in dirty water. A few more of these catastrophic oil spills and that's all we may have left to use.
How scalable is the process to make this catalyst or does it need more reasearch to make production profitable? How efficient is it? Will we need production plants so big that construction costs will be prohibitive?
How much energy will it take to produce this material?
We CAN treat it like we did corn and subsidize it till it is so cheap (no matter the real cost) that no one would even think of drilling another oil well.
According to the article, it's 70 TIMES cheaper, ie, about $29/ounce. In any case, what matters is by how much does it decrease the needed energy to split H2O. Without that figure, which I didn't see in the article, it's rather vaporware.
Okay guys chill out. Does it really matter if they say cheap or inexpensive. Come on, that's semantics. look at the point here. We could sure use all that water.
And 70 times cheaper than platinum at $2000.00 an ounce is still expensive. And how much of the mteal does it consume to create how much hydrogen? This article is not very detailed.
We still need to find an even cheaper method.
I wonder how fast we will consume the oceans when we start burning the water for fuel.
How much will it reduce the rains as we start to consume the oceans.
We still need a better power source.
This seems like it could be a potentially very lucrative discovery in the debate for renewable energy. I feel like $29/ounce is pretty reasonable and obviously this is a very safe way to store hydrogen energy. I just recently saw a video that explains in detail the process of how military scientists are doing the exact same thing only with aluminum nano-particles which I think may be even cheaper. I'll post a link if you would like to see more about the process. It's pretty rad stuff!
Get over it GTO
@GTO - From Princeton.edu
(adj) cheap, inexpensive (relatively low in price or charging low prices)
Hydrogen production has always been cheap compaired to any oil product. What we have been seeing is that the money of oil is keeping hydrogen at bay. Once people realize what these following words mean, and please use your dictionaries, we will switch over to hydrogen and never look back:
IT CAN BE PRODUCED ANYWHERE AT ANY TIME DAY OR NIGHT ANY TIME OF THE YEAR AND YOU CAN NEVER USE IT UP. THE CHEMISTRY AND PHYSICS IS 100% COMPATABLE WITH ELECTRICTY. WIND AND WATER IS ALL YOU NEED. A WATERFALL WOULD DUE. ALL OF THE TEC IS ALREADY OUT THERE. THE PROBLEM IS THAT THE OIL COMPANIES ALREADY HAVE HUGH INVESTMENTS IN EXPENSIVE OIL RETRIVAL SYSTEMS AND THEY KNOW ALL OF THOSE RETURNS ON THOSE INVESTMENTS WILL BE STRETCHED ACROSS LARGE INTERVALS OF TIME IF WE FIND OUT THAT HYDROGEN IS EASY. YOU CAN EXTRACT HYDROGEN AT HOME TODAY GET A BATTERY AND WATER AND THE INTERNET AND GO FOR IT. OIL IS THE MAIN SOURCE OF ALL OF OUR MEDICINES AND SHOULD BE SAVED FOR THAT USE AND NOT BE USED FOR TRANSPORTATION AND HEATING.
HYDROGEN PRODUCTION HAS LACKED LEADERSHIP DUE TO PRESSURES FROM BIG MONEY BACKING THE STATUS QUO - DON'T ROCK THE BOAT. THINK OF THIS - NO POWERLINES, NO UTILITY BILLS. YES ANOTHER POWERFUL ENEMY OF HYDROGEN. WHO WOULD WANT A FUEL SAFER THAN OIL PRODUCTS AND THAT CAN NEVER BECOME SCARCE - MUST BE CRAZY PEOPLE, AFTERALL, WHAT WOULD WE DO WITH OUR MARKETS BUILT ON THE POLITICS OF SCARITY.
@voices1776 I think that as a catalyst it means that it is not consumed in the reaction. a catalyst is something that makes a reaction much more efficient through some sort of mechanism and is not part of the reaction if I remember right from my organic chemistry class. though there could be more than one definition, kind of like the word "cheap".
also if pockets of oil around the world can supply us with enough energy for 100 years so far just imagine the scale of energy we would have to use to actually have an impact on the oceans. also hydrogen is much more energy dense than oil so we would need even less hydrogen by volume(liquid hydrogen) than oil anyways.
but that is not even a problem, when you split water and store the hydrogen you take away from the oceans and the rains but as soon as you burn hydrogen it turns back into pure H20 and thus enters back into our environment. so as long as we can create it on demand (with a renewable source of power) it will have no impact on the amount of water on earth or the environment.
like we could ever store enough in tanks to have an effect on the oceans anyways
@ ocmclean I know the idea that you can split water into hydrogen and oxygen with simply a car battery makes it seem as though someone is suppressing the technology because it is so simple and you can see it working when you stick some electrodes in the water but if you really do the calculations and test it you will find out that the cost of splitting it with electricity is way too expensive to ever be used instead of oil. it is also very inefficient and slow. there is no way that you could split water fast enough to run a car on. I fell into the trap of internet conspirators once too. I even bought a $15 instruction manuel on how to build a device to do it and I realized that its just not that simple. dont you think the people at berkly would have atleast tryed that first before spending tens of thousands on expensive catalysts to test.
P.S. I dont work for an Oil company either
Thanks Greg, I guess you did not bother with the follow up comment.
Another scholar from NJ...
The cost of the catalyst seems like a secondary concern as a catalyst by nature isn't used up in any way during the process. The amortized cost is negligible over the long term if the catalyst isn't destroyed.
The question I have about this article would be does this new metal simply perform the same task as the platinum at the same efficiency level, or is it more efficient? eg: Is this discovery simply a cost reducer for the existing process, or an improvement to the overall efficiency of the process as we knew it?
GTO - Even your second comment blames society and Popsci for your lack of knowledge of the English language.
I suppose reading comprehension is not your thing either. If you counted the glaring editorial mistakes in articles on PopSci over the years you would feel the same way.
Poor editing is a pet peeve of mine. Sorry if I offended you, your highness.
I'm more interested in the actual content of the article. I don't need to bash the writer over one word - a perfectly acceptable word, by the way. It's fine if you disagree with the story, but you sound like a lunatic when you call for the editor to be expunged and call him/her a jackass over the use of the word "cheap".
Nice. This is just like our government. A scientist comes up with the ultimate answer to all our energy needs and... the politicians argue about the meaning of 'cheap'.
that is cool, that means that one once of that catalyst would be like 28 dollars!
and also, i belive the dictionary definition is cheap=inexpenisive
BUT the conotation of the word cheap is low quality
wow Greg, your high horse is calling. I agree I am in these current times, wrong about the use of the word cheap, but that does not absolve the editors from doing their jobs.
you sound like you work for PopSci and/or their parent company. give it a rest. I like PopSci and I receive the magazine so I can criticize all I want.
Wow, are you uptight GTO!
A few other things to consider;
No matter how efficient the electrolysis process is there is still no net increase in potential energy. The energy to drive the process still needs to come from somewhere and wind and solar power is still more expensive then coal and oil.
A Hydrogen economy will require billions of dollars worth of new infrastructure to store and transport the Hydrogen.
Only about 40% of a barrel of oil is used for energy. The rest is used to make plastics, rubbers, waxes, tar, asphalt, lubricants, drugs, makeup, and a million other things.
Better electrolysis is only one part of the solution.
I was under the impression that "our" goal as a society is to use sunlight directly on the catalyst and water to drive the electrolysis.
There have been a large number of articles on synthetic photosynthesis and electrolysis. Why don't we put 2 and 2 together? This process is only truly worthy if no fuel (renewable or not) is required, only sunlight.
It is an elegant solution. We split water to release O2 and capture H2. We later burn H2 in the presence of O2 and release H2O. The net balance of water remains essentially the same.
In case you want to bring up the fact that H2 will be stored at various places, in car fuel tanks, etc... and this could permanently remove a certain percentage of water from the environment, think of all the fossil fuels and oxides we have been taking out of the earth for the past 100 years. Between them, we have been adding far more water into our ecosystem. Remember, fossil fuels consist of Carbon and Hydrogen, and burning then produces CO2 and H2O. We get Aluminum and many other similar metals from oxide ores. We remove the Oxygen (releasing a large amount) and retrieve the metal. That Oxygen in our atmosphere provides some of the source for burning the fossil fuels that create water as a byproduct...
Secondary to that, we might get an offset from melting glaciers if we were to remove some water from circulation.
This is an idea who's time is close. We don't want to adopt the wrong technology early. It will mean that an industry will build up around it and make it more difficult to change. Someone else brought up the issue of industrial inertia. Remember the HD/BluRay battle? BetaMax/VHS? 8-Track/Cassette? LP/CD? LD/DVD? 2-D/3-D TV? Analog/Digital?
Development, AR² CalSki ©®™ is an O₂ Generator utilizing boosted frequencies to raise the Hartman current in diesel and gasoline that makes the molcular structure smaller that contains more oxygen which in return burns with less CO,CO2, HC, with high oxygen content in exhaust that forms water in diesel or gasoline exhaust. I am the designer, an operating marine chief engineer that has experience with this system and diesel since 1975, with petrol, gasoline, benzine and varoius gases from 1988, all with same problems, carbon. The system creates higher power and higher range or mileage, on land, at sea or in the air. This is suitable for todays fuels. Most people think higher temparatures, more btu is the thing, while we work on longer time pressure with less temperatures in the powerstroke. Remember a short stroke engine do not work within this fuel you use today, with a 12% effiency we have a lot to learn and a long way to go. So you have been mislead for generations. Since engines have piston rings I developed a PPB system that reduces the 20% mechanical losses, throw in naval metallubrication below and you have a better fuel, reduced frictions and frequencies in engine top and bottom, zero CO, 85% less CO2, 92% less HC, water in the exhaust, more power, more useable oxygen and some cars have high mileage, lower engine sound, mileages from 10% to 240% with no pollution with more power. regards, Widar Rom
I'm afraid we may have to go searching for water in near future with new energy source from water,.
Wow, now we can have our fuel and drink it too.
What ' COOLAID '!!!!
I want some!!!!!!!!!!!!
Probably worth noting that dictionaries don't define words, they define the usage of words.