Army scientists and engineers recently made a discovery. An aluminum nanomaterial of their design produces high amounts of energy when it comes in contact with water, or any liquid containing 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.
"We all as a team were very excited and ecstatic that something good had happened," said Dr. Anit Giri, a physicist with the lab's Weapons and Materials Research Directorate.
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.
The 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 (a substance that increases a chemical reaction rate) to aluminum. But these methods take time, elevated temperature, added electricity, and/or toxic chemicals such as sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide, or acid.
"In our case, it does not need a catalyst," Giri said. "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."
That metric doubles if you consider the amount of heat energy produced by the exothermic reaction, he said.
"That's a lot of power to run any electrical equipment," Giri said. "These rates are the fastest known without using catalysts such as an acid, base or elevated temperatures."