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Eureka! Purdue scientists turn water into hydrogen

Purdue engineers develop a process to turn water into hydrogen.

The fuel cell-powered Honda FCX
The fuel cell-powered Honda FCX CNET Networks

In what looks like an example of modern-day alchemy, scientists at Purdue University in Indiana have come up with a way of turning water in hydrogen using an aluminum alloy. If the process is replicable on a large scale, it could have a massive impact on the market for hydrogen fuel cell-powered cars, which could use the technology as a source of onboard hydrogen generation.

The process relies on the use of aluminum pellets, which are mixed into liquid gallium (a metal that liquefies at just over room temperature) to produce a liquid aluminum-gallium. When water is added to the compound, the aluminum reacts with the oxygen to form a gel along with free-standing hydrogen, which can be collected and used to power a fuel cell. According to EDN, an Indiana-based start-up already has a license to commercialize the technology.

Many of the major automakers, including Honda, and General Motors, have invested heavily in developing fuel cell-powered cars. However, to date hydrogen has faced significant obstacles to becoming a viable alternative to gasoline, principally the expensive (and often carbon-fueled) process of isolating it, and the lack of a fueling infrastructure. The Purdue development has the potential to address both of these issues.

The Purdue announcement is the latest development in the race to create sustainable, on-demand sources of hydrogen. Earlier this year, a start-up company called Ecotalityannounced that it had enlisted the help of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to develop an advanced hydrogen-production process using magnesium and water.