U.S. Army engineers have discovered that an aluminum nanomaterial produces high amounts of energy when it comes in contact with water.
During routine materials experimentation at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, a team of researchers observed a bubbling reaction when adding water to a nano-galvanic aluminum-based powder.
The team further investigated and found that water – two molecules of hydrogen and one of oxygen – splits apart when coming into contact with their unique aluminum nanomaterial. This reaction surprised the researchers, but they soon considered its potential implications for future power and energy applications.
“The hydrogen that is given off can be used as a fuel in a fuel cell,” said Scott Grendahl, a materials engineer and team leader. “What we discovered is a mechanism for a rapid and spontaneous hydrolysis of water.”
Scientists have known for a long time that hydrogen can be produced by adding a catalyst to aluminum: “In our case, it does not need a catalyst,” explains physicist Dr. Anit Giri. “Also, it is very fast. For example, we have calculated that one kilogram of aluminum powder can produce 220 kilowatts of energy in just three minutes.”
Giri further states that the metric doubles if you consider the amount of heat energy produced by the exothermic reaction: “That’s a lot of power to run any electrical equipment. These rates are the fastest known without using catalysts such as an acid, base or elevated temperatures.”
The team demonstrated with small radio-controlled tank powered by the powder and water reaction. Moments after mixing the powder with a small amount of water, a bubbling reaction produced a great deal of hydrogen, which was then used to power the model around the laboratory.
Grendahl said the discovery is dramatic in terms of its future potential. It could help future Soldiers recharge mobile devices for recon teams on the go.
“There are other researchers who have been searching their whole lives and their optimized product takes many hours to achieve, say 50 percent efficiency,” Grendahl said. “Ours does it to nearly 100 percent efficiency in less than three minutes.”
Additionally, since the nanomaterial powder has the potential to be 3D printed, researchers envision future air and ground robots that can feed off of their very structures and self-destruct after mission completion.
Image, video and excerpts: U.S. Army/David McNally