Sustainable Energy

Hydrogen on the Cheap

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.

This story is part of our May/June 2006 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

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.

Get stories like this before anyone else with First Look.

Subscribe today
Already a Premium subscriber? Log in.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Sustainable Energy

Can we sustainably provide food, water, and energy to a growing population during a climate crisis?

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.