Forgot your password?
typodupeerror

Hydrogen Fuel Balls from a Gas Pump? 280

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the quite-a-racket dept.
navalynt writes "New Scientist reports that the Department of Energy has filed a patent for hydrogen fuel balls. From the article 'The proposed glass microspheres would each be a few millionths of a metre (microns) wide with a hollow center containing specks of palladium. The walls of each sphere would also have pores just a few ten-billionths of a metre in diameter.' They are supposedly safe and small enough to be pumped into a fuel tank in the same manner as gasoline."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Hydrogen Fuel Balls from a Gas Pump?

Comments Filter:

  • Isn't is a bit disturbing that the government files patents to prevent us from using stuff that we paid them to invent?

    So what happens to all the bits of glass and palladium after it releases its hydrogen load?
    I guess ideally, it would get saved somewhere for recycling - but presuming that doesn't happ
    en - is it going to be OK to breath microsopic bits of that stuff?

    • by Spasemunki (63473) on Monday May 22, 2006 @10:41PM (#15385105) Homepage
      How do you know that that is why the government filed for the patent? It could instead be a defensive measure; the DOE doesn't want a private organization to build off of its research and then file their own patent, preventing a wider field from employing the technology. The DOE can file a patent to prevent this sort of abuse, and then decline to charge any licensing fee for companies or individuals that want to employ the technology. Doing it this way avoids future court battles over who gets to profit from the results of government research. It's all in how the patent is used. I imagine that there is some official government policy on how these things are done; I doubt that this is the first time that a government body has taken out a patent on new technology.
      • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Tuesday May 23, 2006 @04:07AM (#15385474)
        I can at least speak for what happens in the Navy. Navy researchers are encouraged to file for patents, so that the govt. can license the patents to private companies.

        I think it's theoretically part of a goal to do a "technology transfer" from the DoD to the private sector. But I don't see why patents need to be part of that. Patents were meant to give you a limited monopoly SO THAT THE RESEARCH EFFORT WAS A GOOD INVESTMENT. But the DoD (and taxpayers) *already* covered the cost of investment.
        • This seems prefectly reasonable. Patents are not always bad.

          The idea goes something like this:

          Technology takes time and money to develop. Unprotected ideas are of no interest to an investor, as there is no guarantee that someone else will simply walk up and make off with the idea. Patenting an idea means that you can then license it to someone who can raise the millions of dollars it takes to develop a working device, driven by the incentive to make money.

          This ensures that the initial idea can actually get developed. It doesn't matter how good an idea it is, if there is no economic incentive to get it working. Otherwise it simply gets left by the side of the road.

          Ideally the license deal should also return some money to the state, to the benefit of the taxpayers who initially funded the concept. It is also worth bearing in mind that the patent only lasts for 20 years, and is written in such a way that it is a full, public disclosure.

          And, yes, I have worked in IP.

          • So, to be clear, you're saying that the government charges money for licensing so that there is a higher barrier to entry for licensees, which reduces competition against the richest of licensees -- thus inducing them to make the investment in manufacturing, advertising, and distribution.

            I call shenanigans. The way you're saying it kind of comes across like, "Well, a patent creates a 'free monopoly' ticket. Someone has to use it! If nobody is granted an effective monopoly, how can anyone expect to get r

            • What about simply patenting so that they can license the patent all around, equally to all, instead of private corporations that charge exhorbinant patent licensing fees or file for injunctions against competition?

              This to me is hardly a bad thing. Prevent private sector from patenting and then denying all others the use of tax-dollar-funded R&D, and even try to recoup some of that R&D cost by offering the tech at a small licensing fee.

              Sounds both socially and fiscally responsible by the government
              • Uh, except that's not what would happen. At least, not in a non-broken system. The patent simply wouldn't be granted to anyone, and it would be an open market -- the same as it is with most of the goods ever created. And there's nothing wrong with that, because nobody needs or deserves the monopoly protection that a patent grants in that case.

                Oh, and "exhorbinant"? Stop making words up.
        • I think it's theoretically part of a goal to do a "technology transfer" from the DoD to the private sector.

          Which is what leads to the demise of public science: at the end of the day the public only owns the stuff that doesn't work. Everything else is sold off--or issued under exclusive license, which amounts to the same thing--to the private sector as rapidly as possible, and government labs become focused on doing applied research, and all that very expensive public infrastructure becomes nothing but a s
      • It could instead be a defensive measure; the DOE doesn't want a private organization to build off of its research and then file their own patent, preventing a wider field from employing the technology. The DOE can file a patent to prevent this sort of abuse, and then decline to charge any licensing fee for companies or individuals that want to employ the technology.

        The government should simply document it so that denial of prior art would subsequently be ridiculous. I agree w grandparent post, their fi

    • So what happens to all the bits of glass and palladium after it releases its hydrogen load?

      Obviously, it gets recycled into Aero Glass [wikipedia.org] and Trusted Computing [wikipedia.org].
    • they patent it so it's not patented by a corporation.
    • ...because I thought, just as wikipedia states in its citations, that all work by the United States Government is automatically in the public domain.
    • by SuperBanana (662181) on Monday May 22, 2006 @10:58PM (#15385166)
      I guess ideally, it would get saved somewhere for recycling - but presuming that doesn't happ en - is it going to be OK to breath microsopic bits of that stuff?

      The technology is probably similar to current "sponge" type hydrogen tanks; right now you can buy a hydrogen storage tank that uses some sort of metal hydride (I forget which) that can soak up a huge amount of hydrogen, similar to this. You heat it up to release the hydrogen stored or to recharge it, similar to how you 'recharge' that volcanic rock that absorbs odors.

      The stuff theoretically wouldn't leave the "tank"; this wouldn't be like going to the gas station and filling up with little 'balls' of hydrogen. Still, I agree, it's worrying. What happens when a car is involved in a serious accident that breaches the tank, and the stuff gets all over the place? Or the stuff gets contaminated with impurities and needs to be recycled?

      Carbon fiber seemed like a great idea for race cars, until track workers had to start picking up bits of the stuff. Guess what? It's the same color as asphalt, and it tends to break into very sharp shards, and the particles are really nasty if you breathe them in. Ask any track worker- the stuff is a BITCH to clean up, and if you miss any, it -will- cause someone to blow out a tire.

    • Is it going to be OK to breath microsopic bits of that stuff?

      Probably not [wikipedia.org], but I guess it would depend on the shape of the glass fragments and the amount.
    • Being one of those who thinks hydrogen is a shuck -- an energy storage medium instead of an energy source -- my initial thought was about how much more energy is consumed as overhead creating, charging and transporting the extra weight of this "refined" storage medium.

      But, yes. My second thought was noting that after the hydrogen has been sucked out of the medium, you are left with a tank of hi-tech doped glass -- and the article doesn't get into the excretion side of things.

      Presumably, before you next fil
      • Compare that with:...

        I don't think it's a very valid comparison. Gasoline is readily available at every other street corner in most of the world, of course you are going to see much worse accidents, especially in poor countries with inadequate safety provisions. If hydrogen ever gets the same penetration, will the magnitude of the accidents be the same, worse, or better? This depends in large part on the hydrogen transportation mechanism chosen, but is still very much an open question. At least with

    • So what happens to all the bits of glass and palladium after it releases its hydrogen load? I guess ideally, it would get saved somewhere for recycling - but presuming that doesn't happ en - is it going to be OK to breath microsopic bits of that stuff?

      It's pretty clear you will be able to recharge the balls simply by putting them in some hydrogen under pressure. Also, palladium is an expensive platinum group metal (currently about $350 an ounce) so there will be every incentive not to lose the stuff.

  • by charlesbakerharris (623282) on Monday May 22, 2006 @10:31PM (#15385075)
    My balls run on diesel. I guess I'm doomed to a life of ball-ular pollution... Plus if I use the wrong grade, they knock.
  • by 1155 (538047) on Monday May 22, 2006 @10:31PM (#15385077) Homepage
    big balls?
  • by Flimzy (657419) on Monday May 22, 2006 @10:32PM (#15385079)
    Great balls of fire!!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Say everybody, have you seen my Hydrogen Fuel Balls?

    They're big and salty and brown.

    If you ever need a quick pick-me-up

    Just stick my Hydrogen Fuel Balls in your mouth.

    Oooh, suck on my chocolate, salty Hydrogen Fuel Balls .

    (Put 'em in your mouth!)

    Put 'em in your mouth and suck 'em...
  • Not being a chemist (Score:5, Informative)

    by localman (111171) on Monday May 22, 2006 @10:41PM (#15385109) Homepage
    I didn't understand what the palladium was for. But from the Wikipedia entry [wikipedia.org]:

    Pallaium has the uncommon ability to absorb up to 900 times its own volume of hydrogen at room temperatures.

    The page includes lost of other tidbits, too. I had no idea it was such a useful metal.

    Cheers.
    • The Beastie Boys [lyricsdepot.com] must not be made of hydrogen.
    • I had no idea it was such a useful metal.

      I knew that Palladium [palladiumbooks.com] had the ability to absorb a month's worth of attention span in just a slim book, but I hadn't heard about the hydrogen thing. Thanks!
    • Palladium sells for about $340,- per ounce, slightly more than half that of gold.

      And that is with a relatively low demand. It is quite rare, at least more so than gold. If they start burning it with fuel, the demand will push the price more in the direction of that of platinum (about $1290) or above.
      • I don't think that they are planning on burning the spheres. I read the article as, you pump the sphere into a tank in your car (because they can flow like a liquid), using some heat and a slight vacume, the hydrogen is released from the spheres.

        The hydrogen goes off to the fuel cell/IC engine (what ever use you have for the hydrogen) and the sphere's are left behind.

        I suppose the best possible solution would be to draw the sphere's out of the main tank, release the hydrogen and move the now emoty s
    • Supposedly that's how cold fusion works. It's said that the hydrogen atoms become so crowded together inside the paladium that they fuse together into helium.

      ...so imagine you are driving down the highway when suddenly cold fusion reactions start in your tank and you go up in a ball of flame. After all, if we are to believe the reports on cold fusion, the reactions always seem to start and stop in an unpredictable manner!

  • Well, at least it's got some people THINKING about alternatives. Now, if anything pans out, that is another thing...
    • Now, if anything pans out, that is another thing...

      Thats something about TFA that struck me:

      The glass spheres should be so small and slippery that they ought to flow through pipes like a liquid, the patent says.

      Surely when you patent something, you should be patenting something that demonstrably works, not something that ought to work? I glanced at the patent but its incomprehensible to me, I'm not sure if this is something they have tried it or not. Anybody know anything about this?

    • Now, if anything pans out, that is another thing...

      It won't. The whole concept is pretty ridiculous. The patents says these things have to be heated to 450C, which they did at 50C per hour, probably to avoid cracking the balls and/or the fuel tank. That means it takes 8 hours of warmup time to get your car started. It would also take a lot of heat, which probably wouldn't be easy to reclaim. And on top of that, how would you know when you're empty?

      I know it's best to be open-minded about research li
  • by SuperBanana (662181) on Monday May 22, 2006 @10:49PM (#15385133)
    Hydrogen is often promoted as an ideal clean fuel for cars. But the explosive stuff is also darned dangerous to transport and store.

    Actually, it is far safer than gas to transport and store compared to gasoline. Why? A)It requires a stronger fuel:air mixture than gas to ignite B)It is incredibly light, so except in buildings with sealed ceilings, the stuff just isn't very dangerous (gasoline vapors are heavier than air, hence why you should NEVER store it indoors) C)It is 100% non-toxic and disperses instantly (say, in an accident.) If a tanker full of gasoline crashes- you've got a HUGE fire hazard, a major environmental disaster so you have to do something about it fast (especially if the gas contains MTBE), and the fumes are pretty toxic (and flammable, and hug the ground.) If a hydrogen tanker cracks open on the highway, the fire department just has to stand around and watch until the stuff finishes leaking out. No fire hazard since the stuff rises away almost instantly.

    The biggest technical hurdle for hydrogen in a distribution network is with seals and hoses; H2 is so damn small that keeping it from escaping through seals and the walls of hoses is very difficult (same reason helium escapes so quickly from balloons, except H2 is even smaller.)

    The REAL problem with hydrogen, which everyone loves to ignore, is that there IS ABSOLUTELY NO WAY to produce hydrogen efficiently, from a renewable resource, without leaving toxic byproducts; current methods either involve hideously inefficient electrolysis, toxic catalysts, or non-renewable resources. Guess why Bush is so hot to trot on Hydrogen? Natural gas is the current "favorite" source. Except you've got to do some nasty processes to natural gas to get the hydrogen, and you have to do something with the carbon leftover when you remove all the hydrogen atoms. The whole point of going OFF hydrocarbon fuels is to get off the CARBON which usually ends up in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide! Not to mention, natural gas is NOT RENEWABLE!

    "Fuel cells!" you say. Except they're very expensive, have toxic catalysts in them, and have a very finite lifetime unless you use very, very clean water. Distilled/deionized water takes a lot of energy to produce...

    • by enjo13 (444114) on Monday May 22, 2006 @10:57PM (#15385159) Homepage
      H2 is so damn small that keeping it from escaping through seals and the walls of hoses is very difficult (same reason helium escapes so quickly from balloons, except H2 is even smaller.)

      Hydrodgen just wants to be free.
      • Hydrogen diffuses readly through steel, but not through aluminium. The hydrogen diffusion coefficients of steels are greater than 10-6 cm2.s-1, whereas the hydrogen diffusion coefficients of aluminium alloys are approximately 10-10 cm2.s-1. So don't use steel. (If you have to use steel, put down a layer of copper or aluminium to slow the diffusion.) Hydrogen gas can readily disociate on the metal surface, then you have two protons, which can readily move through the 'Fermi sea' of electons, especially in
    • That was a highly factual post (and a great point, severaly underreported, about the *environmental* impact of making hydrogen), except
      >It requires a stronger fuel:air mixture than gas to ignite

      Hydrogen is remarkable for the wide range of concentrations at which it will go boom. CERN's safety page lists 4% to 74% concentrations in air as the explosive range. Gasoline is much more finicky: before microprocessors and smog controls, cars had elaborate mechanical computers called carburetors to keep the mixt
      • No, you're confusing burning with exploding. There's only a small range
        of concentrations at which gasoline will expode, but if you put a match
        to it, it will always burn because as some distance from the surface
        of the gasoline liquid, there is sufficient vapor to support flame.

        Hydrogen, on the other hand, very quickly disperses through the air to be
        too dilute to support flame and is only susceptible to flashing (exploding)
        for a very short time (almost zero time if it's a well ventilated area).
    • Insightful comment, and almost entirely right. But you're forgetting something, too: hydrogen might not ignite at quite as low levels, but it is flammable over a MUCH wider range of concentration [engineeringtoolbox.com] compared with gasoline.

      My uncle is a rocket scientist. A couple decades ago, he was working on a NASA contractor test in Florida. One of the technicians was badly burned in a hydrogen fire. It was a hot day, and the tech walked right into the fire without seeing it. That doesn't happen with gasoline.

    • Actually, I saw a /. article some time ago about using a combination of high temperature + electrolysis to get hydrogen from water*. My memory may be wrong, but I think the gist was that it's easier to split water molecules when they're heated and/or under pressure (the electrical input needed is lowered). All you need to increase electrolysis effeciency is an abundant source of heat.

      Now, where do we have tonnes of hot, pressurized water going to waste? Nuclear plants! The stuff in the heat exchangers i

      • Right. It costs about $100 to make a vehicle flex fuel that can run E85, 85% Ethanol. Of course you can make arguments that biomass to ethanol is not an efficient route, but if all the US had the option of not using gas, it may make things interesting. Corn harvesting and distillation of EtOH takes a lot of energy.

        Another thing I would like to see more of is LPG or LNG conversion for autos. You can still run internal combustion, but now you have a big tank in the trunk. You can always switch back to ga
      • It'll eventually suck them back into the mantle.

        You'll contaminate the core (of the Earth). Sounds dangerous.
    • If a hydrogen tanker cracks open on the highway, the fire department just has to stand around and watch until the stuff finishes leaking out. No fire hazard since the stuff rises away almost instantly. I think that in general, peoples fear of H2 is disproportionate with the actual risk. But isn't it true that H2 tends to self ignite when leaking out of small holes?
    • Your information is not correct. As already stated by another reply (which didn't get modded above 3) Hydrogen (H2) will form a very explosive mixture with air, also called detonating gas (if the translation from German is correct where it is "Knallgas"). This mixing happens always when you have Hydrogen meet regular air. So saying Hydrogen would be safe and just rise into the atmosphere is nothing but completely wrong and unsafe. In case of an accident there will be heat sources (be it a fire or a hot eng
      • Keeping Hydrogen gas inside metal gas containers is no problem, by the way. You can buy and store it, just like other gases (for regular materials the size difference of He- and H2-molecules really don't matter).

        You apparently haven't heard of hydrogen embrittlement [wikipedia.org]. Hydrogen can diffuse into the lattice of metals and weaken them. In the case of carbon steel, the H2 combines with carbon to produce microscopic pockets of methane! Storing hydrogen is tricky business. I'm not saying it can't be done, but yo

    • An article in April 2006 Sci Am puts the case that hybrid vehicles are far more cost effective and feasible than a hydrogen economy. Ni metal hydride and LiIon batteries are already commercial whereas fuel cells have been just around the corner now for 50 years (if it's true that fuel cells for notebook computers are coming very shortly, why does a 100W marine fuel cell cost $6000?). The cost of NiMH has fallen 50% in the last 8 years, and the excess weight has halved. And NiMH doesn't need palladium.

      The a

    • by Moraelin (679338) on Tuesday May 23, 2006 @03:48AM (#15385410) Journal
      The problems with hydrogen are many, and handwaving some in, some out, just seems weird.

      E.g., energy density is a real problem. While H2 does have 3 times more energy density than gasoline per weight unit, it's about 10 times lighter than gasoline even in liquefied form, and thus has worse energy density per _volume_. (And hideously less energy density if you use it as compressed gas.)

      But transporting and storing it liquefied is harder than you'd think, because it boils at around -253 Celsius. That's cold enough to _freeze_ air on contact. It's also going to be a pain to keep it that cold, and even in the best insulated tanks it's going to constantly evaporate. In fact, a lot of it will evaporate every day.

      And unlike natural gas, you can't just compress it until it stays liquid at room temperature. If you look at its phase diagram, a liquid phase just doesn't exist anywhere above -240 C. That's where its critical point lies. No matter how much you compress it, it just won't liquefy above that. So you _have_ to keep it that cold.

      E.g., if you want to talk energy, there you go, there's even more energy spent cooling it to those temperatures, and a massive waste of energy when then it just evaporates in a car sitting in a garrage for a month.

      E.g., energy density isn't really helped if you have to pack it in a massive tank, either to hold it under pressure or to keep it cold. If the tank itself adds an extra half a ton to your car, you haven't really won much. (Rememeber the lower energy density, so the tank will also have to be bigger to get the same mileage out of it.)

      E.g., if you want to talk safety, you don't want to be the guy that gets splashed by liquid at -253C when the tank ruptures in an accident. Or yes, when a tanker ruptures on the highway. Yes, it will eventually just rise up, but in the meantime it will instantly kill anything it spills onto.

      E.g., yes, a problem is that it leaks, so you'd have hydrogen constantly leaking in your garage. Whether your roof is sealed tight or not is a moot point when you have a couple percent of your tank's capacity evaporating daily in it. That's a _lot_ more vapour produced than gasoline produces. And you can't just seal the tak shut to keep the vapours in, since the resulting pressure will eventually be tremendous. So you don't want a garrage that's just not sealed shut, you'll want one that's ventilated constantly, even in winter. Otherwise it can jolly well blow up.

      E.g., the problem is made worse by the fact that hydrogen has no colour or smell of its own, so you can't _know_ if you've walked into a room full of it or not. Gasoline, for all its other problems, does have a smell. Sure, it's _unlikely_ that you'd find the room just full of it, but do you actually want to take that risk? Plus, when you talk hundreds of millions of cars, some poor bugger may blow himself up every hour. (As they say, if you're one in a million, there are 6000 just like you. Probabilities are funny like that when they involve large numbers.) Do you want to be the car manufacturer hit by the lawsuits and negative PR of that?

      E.g., worse yet, it also _burns_ with an invisible flame, so you could walk into a jet of flame from a punctured hose or tanker that did ignite, and not even know it until you get burned by it. Again, you can handwave that as _unlikely_, but it's a very real problem and given hundreds of millions of cars, somewhere it will eventually happen.

      And so on. And, yes, I'd be interested to know how these palladium balls address those problems. E.g., will it actually make the energy density worth it, or just dillute it some more?

      And conversely, hand-waving the energy and carbon concerns as some global catastrophe is... uninformed, to say the least.

      E.g., yes, we already knew that on the whole you don't get more energy from burning hydrogen than you put into splitting the water. That's obvious. The problem is that while we're damn good at producing electricity, and outstanding at making electrica
      • E.g., if you want to talk safety, you don't want to be the guy that gets splashed by liquid at -253C when the tank ruptures in an accident. Or yes, when a tanker ruptures on the highway. Yes, it will eventually just rise up, but in the meantime it will instantly kill anything it spills onto.

        How many times have you heard of someone getting splashed by, say, gasoline in a traffic accident? From a gasoline tanker rupture? Yes, it's bad if you get a lot of liquid hydrogen on you; you'll burn any skin surface it comes in contact with for more than a second or two. It's not instantly fatal, however, and it would take a fair bit to actually kill a person. And yes, I work with cryogenic gases.

        So you don't want a garrage that's just not sealed shut, you'll want one that's ventilated constantly, even in winter. Otherwise it can jolly well blow up.

        The lower explosive limit (LEL) for hydrogen gas is 18%. (For comparison, the LEL for methane (natural gas) is 5.7%, and the LEL for propane is 2.1%.) You'd need to boil off quite a bit of hydrogen to get to that level, even in a perfectly-sealed garage. Just punch a duct through to the outside from the high point in the garage (and another somewhere else to let fresh air in) and you should be good to go. Or park in the driveway.

        E.g., the problem is made worse by the fact that hydrogen has no colour or smell of its own, so you can't _know_ if you've walked into a room full of it or not. Gasoline, for all its other problems, does have a smell.

        Many other fuel gases lack a perceptible smell, too. Trace amounts of an odorant chemical (ethyl mercaptan) are added to propane and to natural gas so that leaks can be detected. This is very much a solved problem.

        E.g., worse yet, it also _burns_ with an invisible flame, so you could walk into a jet of flame from a punctured hose or tanker that did ignite, and not even know it until you get burned by it. Again, you can handwave that as _unlikely_, but it's a very real problem and given hundreds of millions of cars, somewhere it will eventually happen.

        I'll take the handwaving, thanks. Yes, hydrogen is a different fuel and has some different failure modes. One expects that commercial handlers of hydrogen are trained to anticipate and defend against the hazards associated with its use, just as they are trained in proper bonding and grounding and ventilation where they handle gasoline. If there are occasional freak accidents, hey, it happens. Getting rid of gasoline will cut down on certain other classes of accidents--the guys who try to light a barbecue with gasoline, for instance.

        And so on. And, yes, I'd be interested to know how these palladium balls address those problems. E.g., will it actually make the energy density worth it, or just dillute it some more?

        This is rather the crux of the matter, actually. Palladium can absorb up to 900 times its weight in hydrogen gas. Under moderate pressure, it will hold it indefinitely. No cryogenics required. It neatly addresses a lot of the safety concerns in your diatribe. The downside is that it's hideously expensive.

        • "Many other fuel gases lack a perceptible smell, too. Trace amounts of an odorant chemical (ethyl mercaptan) are added to propane and to natural gas so that leaks can be detected. This is very much a solved problem."

          What works for propane at room temperatures, doesn't work for hydrogen at 20 Kelvin. If you put ethyl mercaptan in it, it would _freeze_ at that temperature. And when some hydrogen boils off, the odorant probably won't boil off too, because it's not just below its boiling point, it's outright be
      • Stop...saying...handwaving
    • Not really true (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Tuesday May 23, 2006 @04:16AM (#15385503)
      "there IS ABSOLUTELY NO WAY to produce hydrogen efficiently, from a renewable resource without leaving toxic byproducts;"

      I'm not sure where you got that idea. High temperature electrolysis, for example, just uses really hot water and electricity. It's about 70% efficient.

      "you've got to do some nasty processes to natural gas to get the hydrogen"

      Well, there are a couple things wrong with that statement. First of all, hydrocarbon reformation could hardly be described as a "nasty process". You put you hydrocarbon in with some solid catalyst, hot steam, and that's all. Second of all, it can work with virtually any hydrocarbon. Thirdly, natural gas is primarily methane, which can be produced in other ways.

      "Fuel cells!" you say. Except they're very expensive, have toxic catalysts in them, and have a very finite lifetime unless you use very, very clean water. Distilled/deionized water takes a lot of energy to produce...

      Fuel cells do not have toxic catalysts in them, they have platinum, which is just about as non-toxic as a material can get. Though they are expensive and short lived.

      The idea behind hydrogen is that it can be implemented now, and is compatible with existing infrastructure. Automobiles and power-plants that exist now can be converted to use hydrogen. Hydrogen can be produced using conventional energy inputs, but can also be produced using many other inputs. So the advantage is versatility, and the potential to operate industry without producing CO2. Of course, it's not ready for prime time yet.
    • I saw a hydrogen accident once... a truck delivering H2 to the University of Southampton Physics Department (where I was an undergrad) went to fast over a speed-bump and fractured a canister (well, prolly the valve actually).

      The H2 went up in a huge column incredibly quickly. How could we tell, you may ask, as it's transparent! Well, the condensation made a thick black column like a very small thunderhead rain cloud.

      Certainly not dangerous by any measure. Unless you were on top of it, or possibly indoors

    • They are working on H2 production at nuclear plants. There are a variety of cycles that would allow for something much more efficient than nuke->heat->steam->turbine->electricity->electrolo sys. Problem is we are still scared of nuke plants. The rising good solution, build more plants at existing sites. You already have a lot of the infrastructure and permiting / social battle complete.
    • IIRC hydrogen is easier to store than helium because it doesn't leak as much. While you are correct in you assertion that a hydrogen atom is smaller than a helium atom hydrogen is generally paired (h2). The hydrogen molecule is larger than helium (I can't find figures just now but I am confident this is the case).

    • is that there IS ABSOLUTELY NO WAY to produce hydrogen efficiently, from a renewable resource, without leaving toxic byproducts

      If you're being pedantic about it, there is ABSOLUTELY NO WAY that we are currently aware of to generate electricity from ANY SOURCE without leaving toxic byproducts. Yes, I'm including solar and wind in that.

      Who cares if it creates toxic byproducts? As long as we're not pumping them into the atmosphere, I'm okay with that.
    • I agree with most of your post, but...

      hideously inefficient electrolysis

      Not at all. Electrolysis is fairly efficient and up into the 90% range for some processes such as alkaline electrolysis. I think you mean the efficiency loss of getting electricity in the first place.

      toxic catalysts

      Who cares, a catalyst is not consumed by a reaction. It stays in the reactor, and even if it is toxic we will not have it in our gas tanks. Anyway I am not aware of so terribly toxic catalysts.

      Guess why Bush is so hot to

  • ...is that we can make cars powered by laser fusion [wikipedia.org] ... and we can use the same fuel!

    (give or take a few neutrons, anyhow)

  • Considering the current cost of palladium (~$338 an ounce), you'd hope so.
    • Palladium is currently so expensive because it's not used for much outside of jewelry. It's sometimes used as a catalyst. Up until recently it's been a relatively worthless metal because it's soft and has a low melting point. It's use in jewelry has only come from the fact it's almost a byproduct of refining platinum. That's why it costs so much. It's not worth refining it yet.
  • Too complicated (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MichailS (923773) on Tuesday May 23, 2006 @02:56AM (#15385205)
    Hydrogen is theoretically the most effective and clean fuel, but practically it is a nightmare.

    Forget hydrogen. There is an abundance of alternatives out there already that can utilize the current infrastructure and car fleet with little or no cost, like ethanol and SVO and RME and so on. My personal fav would be hydrogen peroxide, but then again I am just a geek.

    Governments and universities and car manufacturers like to speak of big, expensive and complex system changes because

    1 - they won't happen. Keeps the oligopoly happy.
    2 - they make politicians look smart and progressive.
    2 - they require aeons of scientific funding to universities and such.
    3 - they require us to purchase a new car from the manufacturers.

    Thus, simple infrastructure changes such as using ethanol or RME aren't favoured because they are cheap and simple and only benefit us, the plebs.
  • I am not a doctor, but for some reason the thought of millions of micron sized glass shperes does not seem very healthy to me. What would the effect of these glass bubbles be upon their entrance into a cut or other opening in the human body?

    I once dropped a glass on my bare foot, and it shattered into thousands of incrediblly tiny shards. At the hospital, it took them hours to remove *most* of the pieces. Almost 20 years later, I still have pieces of fine glass sand in my foot. Now take this type of tramua,
  • When I last checked palladium was USD338 per ounce.

    If the palladium required costs more than the hydrogen it carries then you have one of the following problems:

    a) People paying for the hydrogen at the fuel station, but not returning the palladium.
    b) People not being able to pay for both the hydrogen and the palladium and thus not using your fancy new fuel.

    If it turns out you can squeeze so much hydrogen into your palladium you might end up replicating the cold fusion thing by accident. ;).
  • breakable? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by zogger (617870)
    I just saw "glass spheres" and thought about bumping around in a fuel tank while you are driving. Just a-wondering how tough a glass sphere one buhzillionth of an inch would be.

    To *me*, and I readily admit I am skeptical and suspicious when big business and government collide (and collude), but the "hydrogen economy" seems designed on purpose to keep the same billionaires and their corporations...billionaires and "in control" of transportation and energy.

    I think I prefer right now and
    • probably not (Score:3, Informative)

      by shis-ka-bob (595298)
      Glass is actually very strong and elastic in the absence of point defects. Think about the glass in fiberglass or the fibre used in fibre optics. It is only brittle because of microscopic cracks that spread. Water greatly reduces the energy needed to break the chemical bonds in the glass. I'm guessing that the balls are so small that it will not be energetically favorable for the cracks to grow, even if they are wet. (Read about Griffith's theory on fracture mechanics to see why.)
  • ...will have attendents that will pump balls. Heh Heh Heh.
  • AM2 (Anti-Matter 2) was a power source used in the Sten novels by Alan Cole and Chris Bunch. It was anti-matter contained in a non-reactive coating. Very similar idea to what is here. How to move a volatile substance and still retain usuability.

  • Health risks? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Shivetya (243324) on Tuesday May 23, 2006 @05:36AM (#15385753) Homepage Journal
    What happens if you inhale these little suckers? You know it will happen. How do they break down over time and how do they break down in a catastrophic accident? Spill cleanup? Do I just vacumn them?

    Lots of promise but all the negatives are curiously missing. This sounds more fantasy than real, the old "patent the idea" and then try to make it work.
    • Since they're talking about a glass encasement, and palladium is an element (not a compound), one would assume zero breakdown. The palladium (or the glass shell, actually) could be laced with iron to make strong-magnetic collection possible.

  • Palladium preloaded with hydrogen would make a GREAT hydrogenation catalyst for use in illicit drug labs. Meth, MDMA, or any of the more exotic phenethylamines could be easily produced using this stuff. Currently, powerful reducing agents (LiAlH4, etc.) are pretty closely watched by the DEA, but if this stuff is going to be as close as your local gas station, expect a upturn in illegal drug production!
  • Or unsupposedly? Which is it? You know, I'm already riding around on a half-tank of gasoline that will kill me just as fast as a tank of hydrogen if it were to ignite. I don't think this hydrogen process needs to be this complicated to work. The 'safety' claim is just going to be used to proprietize the technology.
  • If you scroll down a bit, You'll find other wonderful DoE inventations.

    Like this one [newscientist.com]

    With inventations like that, who needs cars??

    Ben
  • $346US/oz [about.com], as of 8:35am EDT, May 23, 2006.

    Assuming a slurry of these spheres would be a wildly optimistic 50% glass, 25% hydrogen, 25% palladium by weight, that means the energy equivalent [xtronics.com] of 1 gallon of gasoline (~36,800 Watt*hrs) would require that around 1 kilogram of hydrogen. 1 kilogram of palladium is 35.2 oz, or $12,179.

    US cars can hold anywhere from 10 to 30 gallons of gas, or the equivalent of $121,790 to $365,376 worth of palladium to get the same energy density.

    A quarter of a million dollars wort
  • by Winterblink (575267) on Tuesday May 23, 2006 @09:20AM (#15386469) Homepage
    In the future, please submit /. articles which link to the permalink [newscientist.com] contained in this, and most other blogs. Because after the next big scientific breakthrough hits the presses, the link in this article will take you to the top of the blog, forcing us to scroll around and find the item of interest discussed in this posting.
  • How many catalytic-converters-worth of palladium are there in one gallon of hydrogen-fuel balls?

    What do you put in the engine so that all that palladium doesn't get squirted out into the atmosphere as particulates... and while I don't think palladium itself kills, the consequences of squirting finely-divided catalyst into the atmosphere might be interesting. (As techology cheerleaders always say, "for all we know, it might be beneficial.")

    If the palladium can be recovered, what percentage of it gets recover
  • I don't think this format is for going into your 'fuel tank'

    This is the form that hydrogen would take while being transported to the fuel station and while at the fuel station. Then vaccuum or heat would discharge it into a gas form which would then get transferred to your car's fuel cell, the same way current hydrogen cars work (yes there are some out there).

    Even if this were to be the form it was distributed in to your car, it would probably come as a self-contained package... ie: a tube or something that
  • Now we finally know what ENERGON cubes were made of...... and why they were plentiful on Cybertron but scarce on Earth.... palladium.

    Man those crazy Japanese animators had it all figured out, way back in the 80s

    amazing!

     
  • what happens to the glass? is it just burnt up?

16.5 feet in the Twilight Zone = 1 Rod Serling

Working...