Science

Japanese company lays claim to world's cheapest hydrogen production process

FUKAI's functional water generators (left) and a hydrogen-extraction demonstration (right)
FUKAI's functional water generators (left) and a hydrogen-extraction demonstration (right)
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FUKAI's functional water generators (left) and a hydrogen-extraction demonstration (right)
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FUKAI's functional water generators (left) and a hydrogen-extraction demonstration (right)

At least half of the world’s usable hydrogen is obtained through a process known as steam reforming, in which steam reacts with fossil fuels such as natural gas to produce hydrogen gas. On a smaller scale, hydrogen can also be obtained through the process of electrolysis, in which ordinary water is split into its oxygen and hydrogen components by running an electrical current through it – consumers can even buy their own electrolysis-based home hydrogen extraction kit, in the form of the HYDROFILL. Now, however, Japan’s FUKAI Environmental Research Institute has announced a new technology for obtaining hydrogen that it claims is less expensive and more efficient than anything that’s been tried so far.

FUKAI’s process involves adding aluminum or magnesium to boiling “functional water,” a proprietary substance that can be produced simply by running regular tap water through a natural mineral-containing "functional water generation unit.” The bonds that join hydrogen and oxygen molecules in regular water, which ordinarily require some energy to break, are weakened in functional water.

The liquid yields 2 liters (122 cubic inches) of hydrogen gas per gram of aluminum, or 3.3 liters (201 cubic inches) per gram of magnesium. FUKAI claims that the cost of producing enough hydrogen to generate 1kWh of electricity is about 18 cents US. That cost could be lowered through the use of recycled aluminum.

The technology is said to not involve the expansive facilities, petroleum-based fuels, or CO2 output of steam reformation. It is also reportedly more energy-efficient than electrolysis, and doesn’t require the growing of crops necessary for experimental biomass-based systems.

“If we make the most of this technology, in the future it will be possible to run automobiles using water only – no need to use gasoline or electricity,” stated Toshiharu Fukai, the developer of the system. “We are also pushing forward with technology that will allow us to generate hydrogen with zero cost. If we succeed in this development, even ordinary households will be able to produce hydrogen.”

The technology will be publicly demonstrated at a press conference next Monday (Oct. 25, 2010) in New York City.

37 comments
bushman Jack
Home Hydrogen Generators - all i can say is \"remember the Hindenberg\"
gadgetmind
And how much energy does it take to smelt that aluminium?
Andrew Gillies
Yeah petroleum is much much safer....! never been any accidents with that!
rdinning
The place this kind of system tends to run into trouble is can it be scaled up. Many promising processes sound really good until scaling up starts costs going up logarithmically.
pATREUS
ffs don\'t tell Dick Cheney
Muraculous
I wonder what injecting \"functional water\" into the combustion chamber of a warmed up gas turbine (1100 degrees C) would do? Split the water and produce an immediate burn? That would be impressive.
kwillmon
We used to do that as teenagers over 30 years ago. Just mix some lye and water in a soda bottle then dump some aluminum foil bits into it. We\'d pop a balloon over the top and wait for it to fill the ballon. Then we\'d tie a candle wick to it, light the end and let it float up in the air. When the flame reaches the balloon it blows up in a little fireball. Of course a harmless trick like that these days would no doubt get a person arrested as a terrorist making weapons of mass destruction. I have no doubt their \"functional water\" is made functional by merely adding lye to it.
royale455@yahoo.com
Didn\'t the Hindenburg crash because the skin first caught on fire? Not because of the hydrogen? Check out some youtube videos of a hydrogen car fire. Looks much safer than a gasoline car fire. Smelt aluminum... how about I rinse off the aluminum foil from my lunch and use that? Or chop up a soda can? Very interested to see where this concept goes.
hwinters
I agree with\"oldsurly\".Let\'s see where this goes.Time will tell.
waltinseattle
hydrogen generation is one issue. An entirely different issue is hydrogen storage. Hydride tanks are the cost and technical halt. Density for vehicle use, hence the range, is far superior to battery on board and thus we should be happy about any quantum jump in the direction of ready to market.