Hydrogen power seemed all the rage for awhile, until we had to face the practical considerations of using it. Yes, it's clean and abundant, but it's also incredibly difficult to transport. One team may have accidentally found the key to jump starting this struggling economy, though; researchers at the US Army Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground Maryland made a chance discovery when they poured water on a new aluminum alloy. It began to give off hydrogen automatically.
It is possible for hydrogen to be a byproduct of a reaction between water and regular aluminum, but only at extremely high temperatures or with added catalysts. Additionally, it would take hours for the hydrogen to be produced and had an efficiency of only about 50 percent.
That's not the case with this new reaction; "Ours does it to nearly 100 per cent efficiency in less than 3 minutes," team leader Scott Grendahl told New Scientist. That's a pretty impressive statistic, especially when you consider it's an automatic reaction. Aluminum and water can be transported easily and are stable. This can easily be turned into a situation where a lot of hydrogen can be produced on demand, in a short amount of time. This eliminates many of the issues that forced companies to seek alternatives to hydrogen for a clean energy source.
That doesn't mean this is the solution to all our hydrogen problems, though. There are still many questions that need to be answered. First of all, can this be replicated outside the lab? All signs point to yes, but experiments can often work in a lab setting and fail in field tests. How difficult is this new aluminum alloy to produce, and what would the costs of mass production be? How much of it would you need to make this work? What are the environmental costs of producing this increased amount of aluminum alloy? This is an encouraging first step to be sure, but there's a lot more we need to know before we declare this the salvation of hydrogen fuel.