January 23, 2009

Aluminum's shape key to making hydrogen

Put the right number of atoms in nanoscale specks of aluminum and you're a step closer to being able to cheaply produce hydrogen from water on-the-fly.

An analysis of aluminum clusters -- clumps of a dozen or more aluminum atoms -- shows that a cluster's geometry is at least as important as its electronic properties in determining whether it extracts hydrogen from water molecules. It turns out that clusters containing 16, 17 and 18 atoms have irregular shapes that act as chemical catalysts for breaking apart water molecules.

The finding could help researchers design nanostructured materials that generate hydrogen from water at room temperature without using energy. A key challenge is making the aluminum catalyst reusable by finding a way to clear the oxygen and hydrogen atoms that stick to the aluminum after the water splitting process.

A simple water splitting process using aluminum could provide economical hydrogen to fuel vehicles and fuel cells.

Research paper:
Complementary Active Sites Cause Size-Selective Reactivity of Aluminum Cluster Anions with Water
Science, January 23, 2009

Researchers' homepages:
The Castleman Group, Pennsylvania State University
Arthur C. Reber
Shiv N. Khanna

Related stories and briefs:
Carbon promises cheap solar hydrogen -- related research
Cheap catalyst boosts solar hydrogen prospects -- related research
Plant-inspired molecule boosts water splitting -- related research

Back to ERN January 26/February 2, 2009



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