Air Force

Generating hydrogen from aluminum nanoparticles and water

Spontaneous generation of hydrogen achieved efficiently by combining stabilized aluminum nanoparticles with room temperature water


Microscope image of a water droplet containing a small quantity of the Al nanoparticles; H2 can be seen evolving as gas bubbles.

Field deployable energy is typically heavy and/or volatile, limiting its use in far-forward or backcountry situations. Military convoys must also contend with increased vulnerability created by transporting these fuels, whether they be liquid petroleum fuels or compressed liquid hydrogen.

In search of alternatives, the Air Force Research Laboratory developed an aluminum (Al)-based stable energy carrier that reacts with any liquid containing water to yield a rapid and thorough generation of hydrogen (H2).  Aluminum is normally nonreactive due to its thin oxide surface layer. This aluminum–water reaction is made possible by creating aluminum oleic acid core-shell nanoparticles via sonochemistry. The resulting reaction, which requires a pressure tank to contain, is nearly complete (>95%), offers a tunable conversion rate, a high yield (1/2 liter H2 gas from 1g Al), and an environmentally benign byproduct.

The technology has been demonstrated as a source of hydrogen gas for a range of applications, from power generators, such as fuel cells, to fuel for race car engines. Because the reaction is spontaneous and exothermic, packaging is required to isolate the Al nanomaterial from water until a reaction is desired. First responders and special operators having diverse and field forward power needs may be early adopters.

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