Hydrogen (H2) is the most plentiful element in the universe, but in order to use it as a fuel we need to generate it. The issue is that about 95% of hydrogen is created using a natural gas-based method which are not renewable.
However, there may be a solution to this particular difficulty. The University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) has developed a method for producing H2 by inventing a unique form of aluminum composite that combines with water at room temperature.
Aluminum is a reactive substance that separates oxygen from water molecules, releasing H2 gas. However, aluminum will not necessarily do this on its own. This is due to the metal forming a coating of aluminum oxide at ambient temperature, which effectively prevents it from interacting with water.
Scientists discovered that by utilizing a simple combination of gallium and aluminum, they can induce this material to react with water at ambient temperature, creating hydrogen.
For decades, scientists have known that this aluminum-gallium combo creates H2. However, the UCSC team discovered that increasing the proportion of gallium in the composite also enhanced H2 generation.
Furthermore, the composite may be manufactured from readily available aluminum materials such as foil or cans. The disadvantage is that gallium is quite costly, although it can be recovered in this process and reused multiple times.
Another disadvantage is that hydrogen fuel cells are still not widely used. While it is feasible to burn hydrogen directly as a fuel, it is dangerous, and tanks must frequently be highly pressured in order to hold usable amounts of it.
It needs to be seen whether the UCSC approach can be scaled up for commercial hydrogen generation.
Reference- Journal ACS Applied Nano Materials, Popular Science, Science Direct, Newsweek, NDTV