Well, as it turns out, that depends on whether the fluid is considered to be a gas or a liquid, according to a new study.
The researchers found that water with a certain level of dissolved oxygen (about 4 percent) is an ideal energy generator for the reaction: As heat is absorbed in the liquid, the water can combine with the oxygen to make hydrogen and oxygen gas, the researchers report Thursday in the journal Nature. In experiments using a reactor in California, the researchers produced hydrogen and oxygen gas in as little as three hours.
“Hydrogen and oxygen are two of the most abundant energy sources that humans are capable of generating at the present time and they’re both abundant sources of new products to be manufactured,” the researchers say. “These results raise the possibility that we’ll be able to generate hydrogen by producing gas out of the water in small quantities, or in other words, producing a process that is energy producing.”
The researchers estimate that using small amounts of methane—a form of water—to generate hydrogen could replace the need for fossil fuels for some applications. If methane were made into a liquid using catalysts, a methane-based fuel would be much more efficient than gasoline. It would also be more efficient at meeting other environmental challenges—in particular, the fact that hydrogen fuel is environmentally problematic because it has a high greenhouse gas effect. [Photos: How Fuel Cells Work]
“We have the knowledge now that the key to replacing fossil fuels is hydrogen,” said study author Michael Wittenburg, a former research chemist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Finding a material that can become water in just a few hours and then form a fuel would be relatively easy for the average person, the researchers say. For instance, they’ve already developed a chemical process to make a polymer that allows methane to make a solid and the researchers are developing ways in which they could create these types of chemical reactions. And once the process is developed, they hope to use it on something like gasoline, which will require much more power than would be obtained from water.
“This is just part one. They can produce hydrogen from the water in a much shorter amount of time,” Wittenburg said. “There are other reactions that could generate more energy than hydrogen.”
A more important factor is how this process is done, which is crucial. This would essentially be an industrial process, Wittenburg and his colleagues say, but “it would have the advantage of being very environmentally friendly.” A natural
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