MIT researchers produce hydrogen from scrap aluminum and water

MIT has conducted new research into the production of hydrogen, which is a potentially green source of energy that could help reduce pollution in the environment. The production of some types of hydrogen results in significant amounts of pollution. The reason for pollution associated with hydrogen is that during its production, it requires fossil fuel-based processes that some estimates claim generates as much as two percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally.

Additional pollution is created in the transportation of hydrogen from its production site to where it will be used. The team at MIT has developed another option producing hydrogen by reacting scrap aluminum with water. Aluminum reacts with water at room temperature forming aluminum hydroxide and hydrogen. Typically, the reaction doesn't occur due to a layer of aluminum oxide that coats the raw metal and prevents it from directly contacting water.

The new hydrogen production process doesn't produce any greenhouse gases and would solve the problem of transporting hydrogen because MIT's process can be conducted where the hydrogen is needed as long as there's water available. MIT professor of mechanical engineering Douglas P. Hart says that aluminum becomes a mechanism for storing hydrogen.

Two of the main challenges researchers had to overcome were ensuring that the aluminum surface is clean and available to react with water. The first step in their system was removing the oxide layer and keeping it from forming again so the reaction can proceed. The other major problem is that pure aluminum is difficult to mine and produce. Therefore, researchers wanted to use scrap aluminum for the process to be practical.

Project researchers do say there is lots of research remaining before its commercially viable. For example, they have to develop an ideal method of preventing the occurrence of an oxide layer on the surface of the aluminum. Another significant concern is how other elements in the aluminum alloy will affect the amount of hydrogen they're able to generate.