hydrogen production
December 9, 2013

New Recipe Will Allow For Faster Production Of Hydrogen

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

A team of French scientists have discovered a method that will allow for the quick production of hydrogen – a discovery that they claim could help power fuel cells, provide propellant for rockets and perhaps even help meet the world’s energy needs without the emission of greenhouse gases.

The researchers, who will present their findings this week at the 2013 American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting in San Francisco, have developed a new quick-cook formula that involves using a microscopic high-pressure cooker called a diamond anvil cell.

They combined aluminum oxide, water, and a mineral known as olivine, set the cooker for 200 to 300 degrees Celsius and two kilobars pressure (similar to the conditions that would exist at twice the depth of the deepest oceans), and then cooked it for 24 hours. Doing so essentially speeds up the natural process for H2 production.

According to Dr. Isabelle Daniel of University Claude Bernard Lyon 1 and the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO),  nature produces hydrogen when water meets olivine (a common mineral made of magnesium, iron, silicon, and oxygen) under pressure.

Olivine reacts with oxygen from the water, transforming into the mineral serpentine. The process also separates hydrogen molecules from oxygen. Her team’s process, originally published over the summer in the journal American Mineralogist, added aluminum, which, in their experiments, made the process between seven to 50 times faster than normal.

Current methods of commercial hydrogen production for use in fuel cells or rocket propellant “usually involve the conversion of methane (CH4), a process that produces the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) as a byproduct,” explained Jesse Ausubel of The Rockefeller University. Another method involves splitting water molecules at extremely high temperatures, but that method requires copious amounts of energy.

“Aluminum's ability to catalyze hydrogen production at a much lower temperature could make an enormous difference. The cost and risk of the process would drop a lot,” the DCO co-founder added. “Scaling this up to meet global energy needs in a carbon-free way would probably require 50 years, but a growing market for hydrogen in fuel cells could help pull the process into the market.”

According to the research team, aluminum is the fifth most abundant element on Earth, and is typically present during the natural serpentinization process. However, their approach focuses on using more aluminum than would be present under regular conditions. Muriel Andreani and Marion Pollet-Villard joined their University Claude Bernard Lyon 1 colleague, Dr. Daniel, as the authors of the original American Mineralogist paper.

The DCO, a 10-year international science collaboration which says that its goal is to uncover the inner workings of the planet, will also be presenting other research during this week’s AGU conference. One study will focus on the genetic makeup of a deep subterranean microbe network, while another will investigate water / rock interactions at extreme pressures 150 km (93 miles) or more below the surface.

Image 2 (below): A tiny "diamond anvil" pressure cooker was used in Lyon, France to produce hydrogen at remarkable speed. Enclosed between diamonds, Earth's hardest material, and within a tiny space about the width of a pencil lead (shown in the center of the image), scientists applied very high pressure and 200-300 degrees C heat to a mixture of aluminum oxide, water and the mineral olivine. Hydrogen was produced overnight, instead of over weeks, as expected. Credit: Herve Cardon, University of Lyon-1