sunset from behind the wire

sunset from behind the wire

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Hydrogen Energy

I hope these scientists don't 'go Galt on us'...

ScienceDaily (May 18, 2011) — An international team, of scientists, led by a team at Monash University has found the key to the hydrogen economy could come from a very simple mineral, commonly seen as a black stain on rocks. Their findings, developed with the assistance of researchers at UC Davis in the USA and using the facilities at the Australian Synchrotron, was published in the journal Nature Chemistry on May 15, 2011.

"The hardest part about turning water into fuel is splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, but the team at Monash seems to have uncovered the process, developing a water-splitting cell based on a manganese-based catalyst," Professor Spiccia said. "Birnessite, it turns out, is what does the work. Like other elements in the middle of the Periodic Table, manganese can exist in a number of what chemists call oxidation states. These correspond to the number of oxygen atoms with which a metal atom could be combined." 
"When an electrical voltage is applied to the cell, it splits water into hydrogen and oxygen and when the researchers carefully examined the catalyst as it was working, using advanced spectroscopic methods they found that it had decomposed into a much simpler material called birnessite, well-known to geologists as a black stain on many rocks."
The manganese in the catalyst cycles between two oxidation states. First, the voltage is applied to oxidize from the manganese-II state to manganese-IV state in birnessite. Then in sunlight, birnessite goes back to the manganese-II State. This cycling process is responsible for the oxidation of water to produce oxygen gas, protons and electrons.

This has the potential to produce inexpensive, pollution-free energy. If the Saudis don't buy the patent and the rights.


  1. When an electrical voltage is applied to the cell, it splits water into hydrogen and oxygen

    Lots of metals and metal ligand complexes do this. The clincher is where does that "electrical voltage" come from because it's thermodynamically uphill to split water, meaning you can't feed the rats to the cats and the cats to the rats and get the cat skins for nothing.

    A photovoltaic process for water splitting would be great. Some systems already exist. In lieu of that, fission-derived electricity.

    Manganese is only three elements away in my little series...

  2. If we can ever figure out how to get more energy out of the system than we put into it, then we'll be onto something. Scientific American ran an article a few years back with a viable system based on solar power. There were two drawbacks: 1) the cost, which looking back at the 2009 "stimulus" bill is a drop in the bucket; 2) the solar conversion would cover up a good section of the Arizona and California deserts. This, of course, would be unacceptable to environmentalists and any member of Congress from a different state.

  3. My sense from reading the article is that they feel they'll get more energy output than input.

    Sadly, I think that we're a long way from cold (or hot) hydrogen fusion to make that work. Maybe this is the answer?

  4. Euripides - Arizona is an "enemy state" to the present administration. Once emptied of white people, "turncoat Hispanics" and pesky Native Americans, it could be turned into a liberal paradise.

    Chickenlittle - I'm waiting for manganese on your blog.

  5. Combine this with a system which generates energy by combining the two elements and you have the best alternative energy system yet.

  6. Are you kidding? Obama will give them the patent and buy back the hydrogen from them.

  7. The process seems simple enough. Someone could develop it and sell it as a "strange paperweight" which should "never, ever, ever be used to make electricity - entertainment purposes only".

    Just an idea.


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