Hydrogen has long been touted as a high efficiency, environmentally friendly fuel of the future. While hydrogen fuel cells have existed for quite some time, practical limitations have kept the technology from going mainstream. First, creating hydrogen is a difficult and energy intensive process. When you account for the elevated temperature, electricity, catalyst replenishment, and time required, the net-gain of energy spent vs hydrogen created is poor. Second, because hydrogen fuel is heavy and requires pressurization in large tanks, it’s difficult to transport and store. Third, it can’t really be stockpiled. Over time, pressurized hydrogen becomes unstable and it’s simple molecules slowly but surely escape their containers. However, all of these problems may now have solutions thanks to a newly developed alloy.
Researchers at the US Army Aberdeen Proving Ground Research Laboratory in Maryland developed a high-strength aluminum alloy powder. During routine materials testing of the new alloy, they observed that it had galvanic properties when the addition of water created a bubbling reaction that generated hydrogen gas. Without meaning to, they discovered a sustainable way to produce hydrogen on demand.
Essentially, this would solve all of the problems we mentioned above. Additionally, because the aluminum material is compatible with 3D printing, the researchers envision creating devices and robots that can use fuel derived from their very structures. But before then, the researchers plan to fully document and field test their discovery to guarantee the reaction works the way it should.