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A New Electrode for Cutting the Price of Making Hydrogen

By Michael Kanellos
December 7, 2007

Although hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, it’s a royal pain to make.

Most industrial hydrogen producers currently make the gas by heating methane and water to 815 degrees Celsius and causing a reaction. Unfortunately, this process generates 9.3 kilograms of carbon dioxide for every kilo of hydrogen, so it’s not environmentally friendly or cheap.

Other companies like Signa Chemistry have come out with chemical catalysts that can strip hydrogen from water.

Then there is electrolysis, which involves cracking water molecules with electricity. Electrolysis doesn’t produce any greenhouse gases or chemical residues so it’s the most environmentally friendly. It’s also expensive and time consuming. QuantumSphere says it has a way around this problem.

It has devised an iron-nickel power for coating an electrode that speeds up the electrolysis process, according to CEO Kevin Maloney. It’s a classic nano play. Coating a surface with small, independent particles increases the reactive surface area, which means more simultaneous reactions between molecules. Quantum’s Stingray electrodes have more than 2,000 times more catalytic surface area than standard electrodes coated with standard sized particles, he said.

The Stingray can produce 2.4 kilograms of hydrogen in 25 minutes. Standard electrodes can take hours or days, he said. As a result, the Stingray can produce hydrogen at $2.50 to $9 a kilo, not including subisidies. That’s in the range that excites the Department of Energy.

No, the hydrogen economy doesn’t exist yet. But researchers around the globe continue to ponder ways to produce, store and transport the stuff cheaply. Some car makers still maintain that hydrogen cars will come out within a decade or so.

A spin-out from Caltech, QuantumSphere also makes particles for rocket engines and other industrial applications. We wrote about them a few years ago here.

Click to review Stingray Demonstration

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