Researchers with the U.S. Army accidentally discovered a new way to produce hydrogen with aluminum. The new aluminum nanomaterial produces hydrogen when exposed to water. (David McNally | U.S. Army )
Car manufacturers have turned to hydrogen as one of the go-to sources of fuel for clean energy in vehicles, but despite its abundant nature, the gas is difficult to store and transport. However, an accidental discovery may just have found the solution to the hydrogen problem that could potentially turn things around for the industry. A team of U.S. Army researchers hard at work during a routine materials testing at the Aberdeen Proving Ground laboratory were surprised to discover that the aluminum alloy they were working on began to bubble and produce hydrogen and oxygen when they poured water over it.
Since that type of reaction normally does not happen with aluminum, the researchers immediately saw the potential for the aluminum alloy and developed an aluminum nanomaterial powder version that is highly reactive to water or anything with water.
“We all as a team were very excited and ecstatic that something good had happened,” physicist Anit Giri expressed.
It is no wonder that the team is ecstatic about the discovery because they may have just come up with a solution to a decades-long problem.
How Was The Aluminum Alloy Discovered
As mentioned earlier, the team was actually working on something else when they stumbled upon the discovery in January. Specifically, they were working on a high-strength aluminum alloy research for the army.
The team expected that pouring water over the aluminum would only oxidize it, like usual, but they were stunned when it just kept reacting. After further tests, they discovered that the curious reaction was actually splitting apart the one oxygen and two hydrogen cells from the water.
“What we discovered is a mechanism for a rapid and spontaneous hydrolysis of water,” team leader and materials engineer Scott Grendahl explained.
What made the discovery even more exciting was, despite knowing that such a reaction could happen, a catalyst is usually necessary for it to occur. Some of the catalysts are also toxic so they’re not viable options outside the laboratory. Their aluminum alloy, however, did not require any catalyst to make it happen.
The reaction also happens very fast and could produce enough energy to run electrical equipment. In fact, Grendahl said that 1 kilogram of their nanomaterial powder could produce 220 kilowatts of energy in approximately three minutes.
The figures from the team’s accidental discovery already outperforms optimized products that other researchers took years — even decades — to develop.
The aluminum nanomaterial could be the solution hydrogen fuel-powered car manufacturers are waiting for but, before that, the team is looking at ways to use their discovery to help the troops, especially recon teams who could need the energy for their equipment.
“We work here to help our Soldiers. That is our sole aim. This material we have developed will do so,” Giri said.
Watch the nanomaterial in action below.
What’s Next For The Aluminum Nanomaterial?
The team is looking to patent the nanomaterial and will also further test their discovery outside the laboratory. They have also come up with proposals for other uses such as 3D printing and using the material to build small, self-fueling air and ground robots for one-way intelligence-gathering missions because they would have fully cannibalized their own structures by the end of it