Wouldn’t it be nice to have a machine that could cheaply manufacture a gallon of gas per hour for your automobile? Envisioning the day when we may all have fuel cell cars, General Electric researchers have built a prototype that makes the equivalent quantity of hydrogen: plug it in, and it splits water molecules to generate one kilogram per hour of hydrogen.
The basic technology, called an electrolyzer, is nothing new: water is mixed with an electrolyte and made to flow past a stack of electrodes. Electricity causes the water molecules to split into hydrogen and oxygen gases. What GE has achieved is a potentially inexpensive, mass-manufacturable version of the technology.
Whereas traditional electrolyzers are made with expensive metals requiring hand assembly, a team at GE Global Research in Niskayuna, NY, came up with a way to make them largely out of a GE plastic called Noryl that is easy to form and resistant to the highly alkaline potassium hydroxide electrolyte. To get more hydrogen out of a smaller electrode, the researchers borrowed a spray-coating process normally used for jet engine parts to coat the electrodes with a proprietary nickel-based catalyst that has a larger surface area.
Their prototype of an easy-to-manufacture apparatus could lead to a commercial version that produces hydrogen via electrolysis for about $3 per kilogram – a quantity roughly comparable to a gallon of gasoline – down from today’s $8 per kilogram. “We’ve attacked the capital costs,” says Richard Bourgeois, an electrolysis project leader. GE could potentially manufacture the machines within a few years, he says.
The big new idea for making self-driving cars that can go anywhere
The mainstream approach to driverless cars is slow and difficult. These startups think going all-in on AI will get there faster.
Inside Charm Industrial’s big bet on corn stalks for carbon removal
The startup used plant matter and bio-oil to sequester thousands of tons of carbon. The question now is how reliable, scalable, and economical this approach will prove.
The dark secret behind those cute AI-generated animal images
Google Brain has revealed its own image-making AI, called Imagen. But don't expect to see anything that isn't wholesome.
The hype around DeepMind’s new AI model misses what’s actually cool about it
Some worry that the chatter about these tools is doing the whole field a disservice.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.