Scientists Invent Super-Clean Hydrogen Fuel Technique That Could Save Us All

June 3, 2013 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Uncategorized

Scientists Invent Super-Clean Hydrogen Fuel Technique That Could Save Us All

June 3, 2013

Question: What happens when you put together salty water, silicate minerals and some electrical current?

Answer: If a new technique pans out, a potential solution to some of our most vexing energy problems.

A new study, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, outlines a way to produce hydrogen while also capturing carbon dioxide and producing a base that could be used to offset or neutralize ocean acidification. Hydrogen is an ideal fuel source since its only byproduct is water.

It goes like this: First, you apply electricity to salty water. This well-studied technique, called electrolysis, breaks water into oxygen and hydrogen gas, said Greg Rau, study co-author and researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California.

While this is happening, acid is produced at the negative end of the electrode, called the anode. Usually, after the current stops being applied, the acid recombines with the base (hydroxide) produced at the electrode’s positive end (cathode), turning back into water.

But Rau’s team added another step and encased the anode in a silicate rock, one of the most abundant types of rock on Earth. The acid reacted with the basic rock, creating salts and more water.

By using up the acid produced during electrolysis, the water then became quite basic, filling up with hydroxide ions, Rau said. Ordinary air was then bubbled through the solution. The carbon dioxide present in the air reacted with the hydroxide to create bicarbonate, another base present in the bodies of many marine animals like corals and oyster shells.

In the course of the experiment, the carbon content of the water increased by 45 times, harnessed from carbon dioxide. This process could possibly be used to offset ocean acidification in certain important areas like oyster farms or coral reefs, he said.

The acidity of the world’s oceans has increased by about 30 percent since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. This threatens the health of organisms whose bodies contain carbonate and bicarbonate, which is broken down by carbonic acid, the acid created when carbon dioxide dissolves in water.

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