A report in Science News today describes the results of an extremely detailed molecular simulation (full non-relativistic quantum mechanics) which shows how small clusters of (less than two dozen!) aluminum atoms can catalyze the dissociation of water into hydrogen with very high efficiency. The paper has apparently been accepted by Physical Review Letters, but there's nothing up on arXiv :-( Before the alternative-energy fringe starts jumping up and down, the big roadblock to this mechanism is how to fabricate and distribute aluminum atomic clusters (called "superatoms" in the report; sigh...). Making "nanoscale" (another annoying word...) clusters of atoms usually involves high temperatures and vacuum systems. Together, those will consume substantially more energy than you recover from making and burning the hydrogen. However, if that roadblock can be overcome, then this does become a viable technology for fuel cells: fill a tank with water, pour in a pouch (or bucket) of aluminum clusters (magic pixie dust :-), and hydrogen starts bubbling out. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out Oh, and the simulation makes cool pictures, too!
Posted by kelseymh 8 years ago