Friday, February 1, 2008

Cheap(er) Hydrogen?

Holy shit. I'm no rocket scientist, but this sounds promising. I blame the sci-fi geek in me, but this is really cool.

I've been kinda-sorta following the whole hydrogen fuel thing, but was aware of the problems faced in its manufacturing. Now, scientists may have found a way to use sunlight (which, let's face it, ain't running out any time soon) to split water and harvest the hydrogen.

If it works as expected, the technology could help address one of the fundamental problems with using hydrogen as fuel. Hydrogen is attractive because it is light, and burning it only produces water. But today most hydrogen is made from natural gas, a process that releases considerable amounts of carbon dioxide. The other main option is electrolysis. But even if it's powered by clean energy, such as electricity from photovoltaics, electrolysis is inefficient and expensive. Guerra says using strained titania, and Nanoptek's inexpensive manufacturing process, makes the process cheap and efficient enough to compete with processes that create hydrogen from natural gas. What's more, Guerra says, the Nanoptek technology can be located closer to customers than large-scale natural-gas processes, which could significantly reduce transportation costs, thereby helping make the technology attractive. And if in the future carbon emissions are taxed or regulated, Nanoptek's carbon-free approach is another advantage.
Of course, making the fuel is only part of the challenge... Car manufacturers must be motivated to produce engines that use the fuel; fueling stations must re-tool to store and distribute it; regulators and government officials must be properly greased... erm, I mean "briefed" on the safety and benefits of this, all in the face of the immense momentum (and lobbying capital) that's been generated by Big Oil over the past century and a half.

Still, the idea of driving a car that produces only water as exhaust, all while cutting off the balls (as it were) of hostile nations that every day are trying to keep America and the rest of the civilized world over the (oil) barrel is immensely appealing.

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