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Far-Out Tech Department: Fuel Your Future Car With...Aluminum?

 
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Aluminum Cubed [Image by Flickr user jpeepz]

Aluminum Cubed [Image by Flickr user jpeepz]

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You can virtually throw a stone these days and hit someone developing a "fuel of the future", but some do appear to show more promise than others.

Many options for future transportation have their disadvantages, but Alchemy Research believes there's one option that could solve several of our fuel problems.

Interestingly, that fuel is already very well known--it's called aluminum.

Alydro technology

So how does aluminum become a fuel? Through Alydro technology, explains an Alchemy Research white paper.

The system uses only two reactants, aluminum and water. Those are the only two things you'd need to add to an Alydro car, the rest being dealt with under the hood.

Aluminum and water react, and that reaction generates three things - huge quantities of heat--50 percent of the reaction's energy output--aluminum oxide, and hydrogen. And, if you've not guessed already, that hydrogen can then be used in fuel cells, to generate electricity for powering a car.

Refueling would take around 5 minutes according to the paper, to fill the aluminum tank, remove the waste aluminum oxide, and top-up whatever water wasn't replenished by the 65 percent-efficient condenser.

Benefits

Currently, a main issue with electric cars is the poor energy density of batteries compared to gasoline. That means you need big, heavy batteries for a relatively modest range. The issue with hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles is creating a usable hydrogen infrastructure, and somehow generating hydrogen in a way that's more energy-efficient than simply plugging in a battery-electric vehicle.

Alydro theoretically solves both of these issues.

Aluminum is particularly energy-dense, and combined with a turbo-generator, you get 6.5 kWh of power from one liter of aluminum. Alchemy Research suggests that 60-liter tank would store 390 kWh of energy, and going by an electric car benchmark of 100 kilometers (62 miles) for every 15 kWh, total range for a 60-liter Alydro car would be 2,400 km, or 1,491 miles.

So range isn't an issue, how about the technology's green credentials?

Alchemy Research lists several environmental benefits of aluminum. It's non-toxic--food and drinks are safely stored in aluminum, so storing it in a tank isn't an issue. Nor does it pollute, since there's no burning involved in the reaction and the aluminum-oxide by-product can be recycled into aluminum, ready to be used again.

It's also easy to store (with low reactivity), and relatively abundant--even more so when you consider how much waste aluminum could be re-used from old drink cans and food packaging.

It's also not as flammable as hydrogen, natural gas or of course, gasoline--making it easier and cheaper to set up an infrastructure, and safer to transport.




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Comments (9)
  1. I don't know about the price of aluminum critic.

    The aluminum energy is listed as 8.6 KWH/kg. Let's assume we want 80 KWH in the car. That means we need just 9.3 kg, or 20 lbs for the "battery". And remember this will be completely recycled so we are not wasting the aluminum.

    Now for the cost, $1.20/lb is $24 worth of aluminum. A bargain.

    But the rest of the critic may be valid.
     
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  2. Agreed John, but an increase in demand for aluminum would likely see the price shoot up pretty quickly.
     
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  3. I wonder how much energy is involved in turning aluminum-oxide into the sort of aluminum that reacts with water (your aluminum pans don't obviously )again. Of course being alchemists they probably have a theory about how to turn corroded metals into metals of real value. I think I will sit this one out though and wait for their whitepaper on their core business: how to turn metal into gold.
     
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  4. Good questions.
    - Turning aluminum-oxide into aluminum requires 12.9 kWh per kg. This may change once inert anodes are in use.
    - Your aluminum pans will react with water once you scrape-off the aluminum-oxide film (but by the reaction new film will build, so be prepared for a lot of scraping). For better results you could melt the pan and introduce the water into the melt. That's what Alydro is doing.
    - The theory for turning corroded aluminum into metal was actually developed by Hall (and separately by Heroult) which lay the foundation for the aluminum industry as we know it today.
    - Alchemy stands for aluminum-chemistry, sorry to disappoint about the gold.

    BTW, for real Alchemy with aluminum-oxide - check Verneuil process in Wikipedia.
     
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  5. Guess I need to revise my image of Alydro alchemists standing around a bubbling cauldron then. Too bad because I have the feeling it will take more than just science to make this work.
     
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  6. Thank you for the thoughtful addition to the conversation.
     
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  7. Already posted on Facebook, but I'll put this link here as well.
    http://www1.eere.energy.gov/hydrogenandfuelcells/pdfs/aluminium_water_hydrogen.pdf
     
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  8. Yup, I heard about this about 5 years ago:

    http://phys.org/news98556080.html

    http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/2010/09/hydrogen-production-using-aluminum.html

    That process used gallium, as well.

    Neil
     
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  9. You didn't believe me the first time I posted the link, and you are not going to believe it this time neither because now all the links are dead, but GM, from Oct. 2002, has a hydrogen fuel cell battery they call the "battery on wheels" or the "skateboard car" that they purchased from an engineer, and it uses aluminum as one its cells and to produce electricity for the engine, you pour distilled water, or heavy water (one or the other), into the battery. When I saw the battery on American Scientific on the PBS channel with Alan Alda, the range was 7,882 MPC. I know GM still has the battery because about 3 yrs ago, GM was having collagens design a body for it.
     
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