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College Students Make Case for Aluminum and Water to Create Hydrogen

AluminatorEngineering students at Northeastern University took first place in the Chem-E-Car Competition that took place in Nashville, Tennessee. The vehicle that they called the Aluminator used a combination of water, aluminum foil and sodium hydroxide to produce hydrogen.

The hydrogen was then pushed through a fuel cell along with ambient air, which powered the wheels of the vehicle. From the start line, the Aluminator traveled 76 feet, 5 inches to a finish line that was 77 feet from the start. The closest car to the finish line, the Aluminator won the competition.

Now, I’ve talked about using water, aluminum and some other chemical compound to create hydrogen many times over the past couple of years. I think this is a viable idea that needs more research and development.

When I read the article in Boston.com, however, I was taken aback. According to this source, “A group of Northeastern University students showed the judges at a competition last week in Nashville how autos can make hydrogen under their hoods – thus eliminating the need to create a new nationwide network of hydrogen filling stations.”

The eliminating the hydrogen filling stations part caught my eye. Perhaps this new hydrogen-aluminum fuel could be sold at traditional filling stations and perhaps not. Or perhaps it will be sold at Wal-Mart, Costco, 7-Elevens, bought off eBay or any number of places.

But, the point is that some kind of national fueling infrastructure will need to be in place for the production and dispensing of this hydrogen-aluminum compound and the disposal and recycling of the compound. The infrastructure may not be as expensive as building a nationwide network of thousands of hydrogen fueling stations at $2 million a pop, but there will be a need for some sort of well thought out infrastructure nonetheless.

Perhaps even this hydrogen-aluminum fuel can be used right at the pump to create hydrogen on demand for cars that use compressed H2 gas. Or perhaps this hydrogen-rich chemical compound would be used inside the vehicle and the spent materials disposed of and recycled to be used once again.

The aluminum and water idea is not a new one but it takes us down a whole new path than the compressed or liquid hydrogen scenario. More research is needed not only of the viability of this chemical compound, but how the infrastructure will work needs to be well thought out and mapped out as well.

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