Friday, March 22, 2019

Fueling America: the Oceans Aren’t Just For Fish Anymore

Do you remember the stories about cars running on water? The general storyline ran something like this: somebody invented a car that ran on water and GM squelched it to maintain their market share of the combustion engine – and our dependence on expensive fossil fuel instead of cheap, clean, renewable water. The urban legend began before the age of the internet, but has been greatly enhanced since then to include tales of assassinations and nefarious suppression of technologies that would save the planet. It also provided some actual scientific explanations of how water can be converted to energy, like this from Popular Mechanics:

There is energy in water. Chemically, it's locked up in the atomic bonds between the hydrogen and oxygen atoms. When the hydrogen and oxygen combine, whether it's in a fuel cell, internal combustion engine running on hydrogen, or a jury-rigged pickup truck with an electrolysis cell in the bed, there's energy left over in the form of heat or electrons. That's converted to mechanical energy by the pistons and crankshaft or electrical motors to move the vehicle.

Unfortunately PM editors also pointed out the constraints of harnessing that energy:

Problem: It takes exactly the same amount of energy to pry those hydrogen and oxygen atoms apart inside the electrolysis cell as you get back when they recombine inside the fuel cell. The laws of thermodynamics haven't changed, in spite of any hype you read on some blog or news aggregator. Subtract the losses to heat in the engine and alternator and electrolysis cell, and you're losing energy, not gaining it--period. 

There are those pesky “laws of thermodynamics” again, screwing with the energy do-gooders of the world.

And then the Thermodynamic Fairies screw everything up

But finally, good news for the Green New World Order people: Rejoice! Your prayers to Gaia have been answered, sort of:

Scientists at Stanford report that they have overcome one of the biggest hurdles to converting the oceans to a renewable energy farm:

A team of scientists at Stanford have figured out a way to make hydrogen fuel out of saltwater. The discovery could open up the world's oceans as a potential source of energy. Researchers view electrolysis, or the act of splitting water into hydrogen and gas, as a promising new source of renewable energy. But it comes with many roadblocks; a major one being that only purified water can be used in electrolysis. Seawater tends to corrode water-splitting systems.

The Stanford team is on the verge of licking that corrosive problem as well:

The Stanford team layered nickel-iron hydroxide and nickel sulfide on top of a nickel foam core, essentially creating a barrier that would slow down the decay of the underlying metal. By acting as a conductor, the nickel foam transports energy from the power source and the nickel-iron hydroxide sparks the electrolysis.

What happens without the nickel coating? The water-splitting device lasts roughly 12 hours, unable to withstand seawater corrosion. But with the nickel layer, the device can keep going for more than a thousand hours.

While researchers concede we’re a long way from harnessing the oceans as a “sustainable” energy source, and the results have not been replicated outside Stanford’s research labs, scientists are hopeful that their discovery will finally pave the way for hydrogen fueland cars that really do run on water.

So there you have it: Clean, renewable, CO2 free hydrogen to fuel all our energy needs! Zero carbon air flight, just like AOC wants. What could possibly go wrong?