A fuel that is abundant and non-polluting would be the perfect alternative to the environmentally-damaging fossil fuels that are in use today. The fact that this fuel does exist and is readily available may surprise many, but the use of hydrogen is not without complications.
When hydrogen is used as a fuel it combines with oxygen in the air to form the by-product water. As water is not a contaminant the system is pollution free. The problems are found when the practicalities of storing the hydrogen are taken into account. In its natural state hydrogen tends to bond to itself, forming H2 molecules, and this molecular hydrogen requires high pressure and low temperature to store.
It is possible to break these bonds with a catalyst such as platinum or palladium, but these are rare and expensive metals that rapidly make the solution economically unviable. Researchers have been keen to find a cheaper alternative and researchers from Washington State University and the University of Texas may have had some success.
Using a foundation of aluminium the team added a thin titanium/aluminium alloy surface. This has allowed them to develop a catalyst without the need for the less abundant noble metals.
Although these are still the early stages of development for this material, the researchers hope that the future will lead to the development of a solid aluminium hydride-based storage medium. Aluminium hydride is a stable solid that on heating would release the hydrogen for use in a fuel cell or in a combustion system. The dangers and costs involved in the storage of large quantities of hydrogen gas would be eliminated and the possibility of fuel storage without complex equipment could become a reality.
This is clearly a positive step for the move towards hydrogen as a viable energy source and, with all of the benefits that this will involve, it seems like positive step for the environment in general.