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Energy Center Symposium To Pave The Road To A Hydrogen Economy

Purdue researchers demonstrate their method for producing hydrogen by adding water to an alloy of aluminum and gallium. The hydrogen could then be used to run an internal combustion engine. The technology could, in theory, be used to replace gasoline with non-polluting hydrogen for cars. Initially the method will be used in portable electrical generators. (Purdue News Service photo/David Umberger)
by Staff Writers
West Lafayette IN (SPX) Apr 12, 2007
With the continued rising cost and demand for oil and gasoline, international leaders will come to Purdue University to share ideas and information on how to end global dependence on fossil fuels and move to a hydrogen economy.

The prospect will be showcased on Thursday and Friday (April 12-13) during the second Hydrogen Initiative Symposium, sponsored by Purdue's Energy Center at Discovery Park. The symposium will take place in the university's Stewart Center.

"Purdue is a world leader in hydrogen research for transportation and energy use," said Jay Gore, the Vincent P. Reilly Professor in Mechanical Engineering and interim director of the Energy Center. "Renowned engineers and scientists working in academia, research institutes and industrial laboratories, as well as governmental leaders, will be at the symposium."

The conference will feature lectures, presentations and a poster session dealing with the various aspects of hydrogen generation, storage and utilization. Topics at the symposium will range from nanotechnology to findings in environmental sciences and societal implications.

Private sector representatives participating in the symposium include representatives of BASF Catalysts LLC, General Motors Corp., Shell Hydrogen, ForeverGreen Enterprise Inc., Westinghouse Inc. and PhycoBiologics Inc.

Researchers from Purdue, Penn State University and the University of Cincinnati, as well as the Leighty Foundation, U.S. Department of Energy, and Argonne and Oak Ridge national laboratories also will attend.

The first Herbert C. Brown Award for Innovations in Hydrogen Research will be received on behalf of Borislav Bogdanovic by Michael Felderhoff of the Maz Planck Institute for Carbon Research in Muhlheim on Ruhr. The second Herbert C. Brown Award for Innovations in Hydrogen Research will be presented during next year's symposium. The award comes with a $5,000 cash prize.

On Thursday (April 12), a poster session is planned in Stewart Center. The welcome, keynote and plenary sessions are in Stewart Center, along with other lectures that day. Events will take place in rooms 302, 306 and 310.

President George Bush is supporting a $1.2 billion hydrogen fuel initiative that will encourage the use hydrogen stations where people would fill their fuel-cell cars with the pollution-free fuel by the year 2020. Homes and businesses also could provide heat and electricity from hydrogen-powered fuel cells that would not emit greenhouse gases or other pollutants.

"Storage remains the major issue regarding hydrogen research," said Shripad Revankar, a Purdue associate professor of nuclear engineering who is chairman of the symposium's scientific committee. "We will showcase what Purdue is doing to improve fuel cell research and similar technologies at the symposium."

A fuel cell works by using a catalyst, such as platinum, to split hydrogen molecules, which contain two atoms in a dumbbell shape. Breaking apart the dumbbell gives off electrons, which generate a current that can be used to run an electric motor.

Because each hydrogen atom's single electron is removed, the atoms become positively charged. The positively charged hydrogen atoms pass through a special "proton-exchange membrane," entering another part of the fuel cell, where they are exposed to oxygen from the air. When hydrogen and oxygen combine, they produce water, making fuel cells a clean power source.

Engineers at Purdue have developed a new way to produce hydrogen for fuel cells to automatically recharge batteries in portable electronics, such as laptop computers, and eliminate the need to use a wall outlet.

Researchers envision a future system in which pellets of hydrogen-releasing material would be contained in disposable credit-card-size cartridges. Once the pellets were used up, a new cartridge would be inserted into devices like cell phones, personal digital assistants, notebook computers, digital cameras, handheld medical diagnostic devices and defibrillators.

"The conference is for everyone interested in learning about hydrogen and how hydrogen can be used to store and produce energy from nuclear, coal, wind and solar - it's a rich untapped resource for alternative energies," said Mahdi Abu-Omar, an associate professor of inorganic chemistry in the Department of Chemistry

Hydrogen is an extremely light gas, so it poses serious challenges for practical use. Because hydrogen's molecular weight is only 2 - compared to a heavier gas like methane that has a molecular weight of 16 - less hydrogen is contained in the same space, making its transport much more expensive.

Purdue researchers and presenters at the symposium include Jerry Woodall, a distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering; Rakesh Agrawal, the Winthrop E. Stone Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering; Daniel Raftery, a professor of chemistry and leader of the advanced electrochemical systems group at the Energy Center; and Timothy Fisher, an associate professor of mechanical engineering.

Woodall will discuss a process he developed for producing hydrogen by adding water to an alloy of the metals aluminum and gallium. The method makes it unnecessary to store or transport hydrogen - two major challenges in creating a hydrogen economy. A startup company, AlGalCo Inc., located at the Purdue Research Park, has been formed to manufacture emergency portable generators using the technology. Water is added to a tank containing pellets of the alloy, and the reaction splits water molecules to produce hydrogen. The hydrogen is then used instead of gasoline to run an ordinary internal combustion engine. The same technology could, in theory, be used to replace gasoline for cars and trucks. A video describing how hydrogen-producing technology works is available online at

Agrawal will talk about a new environmentally friendly concept for producing liquid fuels from biomass. The concept represents a potential method for providing all of the fuel needed for the entire U.S. transportation sector. The biomass would come from existing sources, such as agricultural and forest waste. The new approach modifies conventional methods for producing liquid fuels from biomass by adding hydrogen from a "carbon-free" energy source, such as solar or nuclear power, during a step called gasification. Adding hydrogen during this step suppresses the formation of carbon dioxide and increases the efficiency of the process, making it possible to produce three times the volume of biofuels from the same quantity of biomass. A research paper about the concept was published earlier this year in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Raftery will discuss a method he developed for converting solar energy to hydrogen using doped semiconductor nanoparticle materials. This energy system takes advantage of sunlight as a clean fuel for inexpensive production of hydrogen. The materials are painted on conducting glass that is used as an electrode to split water into hydrogen and oxygen in the presence of sunlight. His group works with highly stable metaloxides, such as titanium dioxide. The team adds other materials, or dopants, to the metaloxides to enhance the absorption properties and improve efficiency. Through a newly developed synthesis method, his team is able to study in very close detail the dopant atoms and relate structural qualities to the performance of the material.

Fisher will provide an overview of issues critical to "heat transfer" regarding hydrogen storage methods. Heat transfer is the movement of thermal energy from a hot area to a cooler area and is crucial for the performance of a variety of engineered systems. The efficiency of heat transfer can be improved by using different materials and innovative designs in hydrogen storage. The talk will include information about how efficient heat transfer can enhance hydrogen compression, how improved heat transfer inside storage tanks during the fueling process can minimize the need for additional compression, how improved insulation of cryogenic tanks can significantly reduce energy loss and the potential use of innovative vehicle cooling designs needed for widespread acceptance of hydrogen storage using metal hydrides. The talk will include experimental data and models and will highlight a variety of thermal phenomena that occur during "hydriding and dehydriding." Work by Fisher and his collaborators is based at the Purdue Hydrogen Systems Laboratory, which is an interdisciplinary facility involving many different schools, departments and centers at Purdue.

Other keynote and plenary lecturers and their topics for the symposium include:

* James Spearot of the Chemical and Environmental Sciences Laboratory of General Motors Research and Development Center, "Current Accomplishments and Future Challenges in the Development of Hydrogen Technologies for Use in Transportation Applications."

* Bruce Logan, the Pennsylvania State University Kappe Professor of Environmental Engineering, "University Based Hydrogen Energy Centers: Providing Breakthroughs that Enable Energy Independence."

* Robert J. Farrauto, BASF Catalysts LLC, "New Catalyst Technology for the Hydrogen Economy."

* Michael Ladisch, Purdue distinguished professor of agricultural and biological engineering and director of LORRE, "Biohydrogen Fuel Sources for Electrical Power Generation."

The registration fee ($150 and $50 for students) covers the cost of symposium abstracts, the banquet, lunch and coffee breaks. The guest registration fee ($50) covers the cost of the symposium banquet, lunch and coffee breaks.

Created with seed money from the Lilly Endowment, Purdue's Energy Center is working with similar centers in Illinois and Kentucky to focus on developing economical and environmentally sound energy alternatives and to help change policies and perceptions about energy consumption.

Purdue's Energy Center, which was launched in 2005, brings together more than 75 Purdue experts. The Energy Center initially is focused on biofuels and clean-coal research because Indiana provides an abundance of these natural resources.

The center also is designed to bolster Purdue's expertise in storage technologies, such as those involving hydrogen, batteries, power electronics and renewable energy devices like solar cells. Researchers also are studying how to harness the wind and make nuclear energy safer.

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