Easy Hydrogen Extraction Using Silicon Nanoparticles

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Photo credit: Some rights reserved by Luke Andrew Scowen 2009 via Flickr

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by Luke Andrew Scowen 2009 via Flickr

Hydrogen as a source of energy generally suffers from two commonly known disadvantages. First would be the inherent difficulty of storing hydrogen, and second would be the inefficiency of extracting hydrogen.

We are still far from completely solving these two issues, but this new research might provide another solution and alternative that could make these weaknesses less apparent, and make hydrogen more advantageous for certain practical applications.

Researchers from the University at Buffalo in New York have discovered, through a series of experiments, that spherical silicon particles 10 nanometers in size are capable of producing a considerable amount of hydrogen when combined with water. In fact, the researchers have shown that the nanoparticles were actually capable of producing hydrogen 150 times faster than the same silicon particle that is 100 nanometers wide. When compared with a bulk piece of silicon, the reaction is even looks faster, at 1000 times its conversion rate. The reaction speed was verified when they observed that the smaller 10 nanometer particles have produced a lot more hydrogen than what could the larger, 100 nanometer particles have produced in a span of 45 minutes.

One substantial point that makes this discovery more significant than it looks is that such reactions typically do not require the use of any active source of energy; water and the silicon nanoparticles simply react with one another to form the non-toxic silicic acid and hydrogen. As for the why smaller particles produce hydrogen faster, the given explanation was that that the larger silicon particles react less readily to water with its lessened surface uniformity.

As the report suggests, proper development of this technology could lead to better “hydrogen on demand” schemes. Instead of carrying hydrogen, which can be dangerous, one could simply extract hydrogen when it is needed, a la “just add water” style. Again, the nanoparticles would not require you to use any other extra source of energy to produce hydrogen. If there’s water nearby, and you happen to carry around some packets or cartridges of the correct silicon nanoparticles, then all of your fuel cell devices/vehicles are spared.

One obvious hurdle in the proliferation of this concept though is that there is a considerable amount of energy and resource required to produce the nanoparticles themselves. Because of this, it might not become universally practical; however it could be critically helpful in situations where, as the report describes it, portability (technical convenience) is a heavier priority than cost efficiency.

Christian Crisostomo
About Christian Crisostomo (260 Posts)

Christian Crisostomo is just your average tech geek that loves to see man's newest and most recent technological exploits. He holds great interest in the potentials of green technology, and is enthusiastic about the continuous development of environment-friendly alternative energy.

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