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Hydrogen is a very attractive prospect for alternative energy sources, and prior obstacles to the utilization of hydrogen power are being overcome through the introduction of a new aluminum alloy material and its unique reaction to water. Recent developments give greater credibility to the notion that hydrogen power could replace battery power appliances and products, ranging from laptops to cars and buses. (Photo via Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty)


The automotive industry is still a powerhouse, even in this day and age. Innovation on wheels is still needed, like in the IoT on Wheel Design Challenge. You'll be surprised what comes from that contest...


But this innovation is out of the blue:


In the last decade or so, the viability of alternative sources of energy has been explored more and more due to the rising concerns about the threatening consequences of pollution and climate change. The issue of climate change may be up for debate for some, but pollution is undeniably dangerous, and while fossil fuels are the probably the dirtiest and most environmentally hazardous source of energy, even greener options like solar energy and lithium-ion batteries. The Washington Post recently published a story exposing the cobalt-mining industry in Congo that is ruining the health and livelihoods of tens of thousands of children for the sake of the cobalt needed for lithium-ion batteries, which are in increasingly high demand for smartphones and electric cars, among many other things. So, in seeking environmentally-friendly sources of energy, a resource, and more importantly, a nation and its people are being exploited for the sake of a growing industry and its economic demands. The accidental discovery made by Army researchers at the Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland may be able to provide a path forward for a hydrogen-powered society, which will hopefully also lead to a decline in the exploitative, destructive practices that are byproducts of the industries for other energy sources.


A 2008 study by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) describes the issue of obtaining hydrogen using aluminum-water reactions, saying that, “a coherent and adherent layer of aluminum oxide... prevents water from coming into direct contact with the aluminum metal,” and that the key to maintaining this reaction to yield hydrogen necessitates, “...the continual removal and/or disruption of this coherent/adherent aluminum oxide layer.” The issue of the aluminum-oxide layer was approached in a number of different ways, but the 2008 report ultimately concludes that none were commercially viable.


According to David Hambling of New Scientist, the recent discovery was made during the routine testing of a high-strength aluminum alloy, and when water was poured onto the material, it immediately started reacting and producing hydrogen gas. It’s a promising sign, given that “previous attempts to drive the reaction [referring to 2008 DOE study] required high temperatures or catalysts, and were slow: obtaining the hydrogen took hours and was around 50 per cent efficient.” The leader of the Army research team, Scott Grendahl, says that the new approach operates at near one-hundred percent efficiency, and occurs in less than three minutes. These are staggering improvements, and while the team has only tried using this technique to power a small, radio-controlled tank, Grendahl believes it can be scaled-up for powering larger vehicles like hydrogen-powered cars and buses. More research needs to be performed and possible applications explored, but this advancement is encouraging for environmentalists and human rights activists alike.


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