A small New York-based company may have come up with a new and efficient way to produce hydrogen, which could be used in hydrogen fuel cells, by using a sodium/silica gel mixture in water to eliminate the problematic sparks that occur when straight sodium is mixed with water.
New York City-based Signa says it has come up with a new--and fairly efficient--way to produce hydrogen, one of the vexing problems for boosters of the hydrogen economy.
Conceivably, the company's technology could be incorporated into fuel cells that could generate enough electricity to run a cell phone for a week, or a car in emergency situations.
The key is sodium, the ornery alkali metal that bursts into sparks when dunked in water.
The sodium/water reaction can generate hydrogen (along with other byproducts).
Signa has devised a way to mix sodium with silica gel or crystalline silicon to create a powder that essentially strips electrons from the sodium molecules in advance and stores them.
More than 9 percent of a kilogram of the powder gets converted to hydrogen and little energy is lost through heat.
"You toss it into water and it just bubbles," said Lefenfeld in an interview.
It has delivered powders to chemical and drug manufacturers and is working with a fuel cell manufacturer to develop prototypes.
Panasonic has started to conduct trials with hydrogen home-heating systems in Japan and Honda has obtained certification for a hydrogen car there.
Others, however, note that the expense and energy involved in making and storing the gas can outweigh the benefits.
It will first target a product--a powder that consists of sodium and crystalline silicon--at industrial chemical manufacturers who consume large quantities of materials, are intimately familiar with industrial chemical processes, and understand the promise (and pitfalls) of sodium
"Pharmaceutical companies will take several steps to get around using alkali metals.
Currently, several companies have developed prototypes of methanol fuel cells and fuel cells that generate electricity by combining hydrogen
with solid oxides.
Methanol is flammable, and oxide fuel cells require a catalyst, which invariably reduces the efficiency of a reaction.
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