PORTLAND, Ore. An EE professor at Purdue University has found a way to produce hydrogen that replaces the need for gasoline by mixing water with beads of an aluminum-gallium alloy.
The discovery could lead to engines that essentially burn water, instead of gasoline, since the gallium is not consumed in the reaction and the aluminum can be recycled.
Purdue has patented the process and has issued an exclusive license for it to an Indiana startup company, AlGalCo LLC.
EE professor Jerry Woodall discovered the process in the lab by accident, while cleaning a crucible containing liquid alloys of gallium and aluminum
"When I added water to this alloy, there was a violent poof," said Woodall. "When the aluminum atoms in the liquid alloy came into contact with the water, they reacted, splitting the water and producing hydrogen and aluminum oxide."
Woodall claims that several industrial process problems need to be solved before the water-fueled engine can become commercially viable. But eventually, he said, it could be used both in engines that burn the hydrogen directly and to charge up hydrogen fuel cells.
The reaction has no toxic by-products and can produce two kilowatt hours of energy from a pound of aluminum, said Woodall. For a 350-mile trip in an automobile, it would take about 350 pounds of aluminum at a cost of about $60, since the aluminum oxide left over after the reaction could be converted back into aluminum-gallium pellets for reuse.