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Friday, February 8, 2013
Using Silicon to Produce Hydrogen on Demand
This is a nice bit of work and will surely stimulate plenty of work
on a wide range of substances that can be converted into nano
particles. Otherwise this is a one way process that may be difficult
to reform restricting applications to one off use.
Yet if formation could be achieved cheaply enough, we have a simple
way to store potential hydrogen energy that rips the hydrogen from
water as it is needed. It should cost way less energy to produce a
perfect powder than just about any other method for hydrogen.
The water may not even need to be mixed, but simply allowed to
evaporate in a sealed chamber while hydrogen escaped through a porous
If we are really lucky, heating the powder may simply give up gas and
oxygen. That would be much too good to be true. It could even lead
to a nicely sintered product.
Just Add Water: How
Scientists Are Using Silicon to Produce Hydrogen on Demand
by Charlotte Hsu
for UB News
Buffalo NY (SPX)
Jan 24, 2013
electron microscopy image showing spherical silicon nanoparticles
about 10 nanometers in diameter. These particles, created in a UB
lab, react with water to quickly produce hydrogen, according to new
UB research. Credit: Swihart Research Group, University at Buffalo.
of silicon react with water to produce hydrogen almost
instantaneously, according to University at Buffalo researchers. In a
series of experiments, the scientists created spherical silicon
particles about 10 nanometers in diameter. When combined with
water, these particles reacted to form silicic acid (a nontoxic
byproduct) and hydrogen - a potential source of energy for fuel
The reaction didn't
require any light, heat or electricity, and also created hydrogen
about 150 times faster than similar reactions using silicon particles
100 nanometers wide, and 1,000 times faster than bulk silicon,
according to the study.
The findings appeared
online in Nano Letters on Jan. 14. The scientists were able to verify
that the hydrogen they made was relatively pure by testing it
successfully in a small fuel cell that powered a fan.
"When it comes to
splitting water to produce hydrogen, nanosized silicon may be better
than more obvious choices that people have studied for a while, such
as aluminum," said researcher Mark T. Swihart, UB professor of
chemical and biological engineering and director of the university's
Strategic Strength in Integrated Nanostructured Systems.
development, this technology could form the basis of a 'just add
water' approach to generating hydrogen on demand," said
researcher Paras Prasad, executive director of UB's Institute for
Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics (ILPB) and a SUNY Distinguished
Professor in UB's Departments of Chemistry, Physics, Electrical
Engineering and Medicine. "The most practical application would
be for portable energy sources."
Swihart and Prasad led
the study, which was completed by UB scientists, some of whom have
affiliations with Nanjing University in China or Korea University in
South Korea. Folarin Erogbogbo, a research assistant professor in
UB's ILPB and a UB PhD graduate, was first author.
The speed at which
the 10-nanometer particles reacted with water surprised the
researchers. In under a minute, these particles yielded more hydrogen
than the 100-nanometer particles yielded in about 45 minutes. The
maximum reaction rate for the 10-nanometer particles was about 150
times as fast.
Swihart said the
discrepancy is due to geometry. As they react, the larger particles
form nonspherical structures whose surfaces react with water less
readily and less uniformly than the surfaces of the smaller,
spherical particles, he said.
Though it takes
significant energy and resources to produce the super-small silicon
balls, the particles could help power portable devices in situations
where water is available and portability is more important than low
cost. Military operations and camping trips are two examples of such
previously unknown that we could generate hydrogen this rapidly from
silicon, one of Earth's most abundant elements," Erogbogbo said.
"Safe storage of
hydrogen has been a difficult problem even though hydrogen is an
excellent candidate for alternative energy, and one of the practical
applications of our work would be supplying hydrogen for fuel cell
power. It could be military vehicles or other portable applications
that are near water."
of taking a gasoline or diesel generator and fuel tanks or large
battery packs with me to the campsite (civilian or military) where
water is available, I take a hydrogen fuel cell (much smaller and
lighter than the generator) and some plastic cartridges of silicon
nanopowder mixed with an activator," Swihart said, envisioning
"Then I can power
my satellite radio and telephone, GPS, laptop, lighting, etc. If I
time things right, I might even be able to use excess heat generated
from the reaction to warm up some water and make tea."