Recent advances in technology have made scientists aware of a potential new source and energy: water fuel cell technology. Scientists have begun to wonder if the same water that comes out of tap could also fuel our homes and cars. If so, water fuel could be a nearly unlimited source of lowcost energy. Here are some ways scientists are looking to tap water for its potential energy.
Water on Fire
In 2007, an inventor attempting to solve one difficult problem instead made an inadvertent and highly surprising discovery that addressed another. Attempting to build a machine to cure cancer with radio waves, he had an assistant bombarding a saline-filled test tube with the waves when he bumped the tube and created a small flash. Curious, the inventor struck a match. The water lit like propane. Scientists are now developing a system that can burn saltwater for fuel.
Water is among the most stable of natural resources. Every molecule of water consists of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. A system called electrolysis can separate these atoms through an electrical stimulus, then gather the energy from that separation and direct it into an electrical system. However, current, stable forms of electrolysis require an exceedingly large amount of money and energy to control. This system is rarely used in industrial applications since hydrogen can be produced more affordably from fossil fuels.
A Japanese company, Genepax, has made significant progress with its Water Energy System fuel cell prototype. The key to this system is its membrane electrode assembly, which is capable of breaking water down into oxygen and hydrogen through a chemical reaction. The hydrogen is used to power a small car. Currently, this system costs about $18,700 each. However, Genepax says that if it can get into mass production, the cost could be cut to about $5,000.
MIT chemists have discovered a catalyst that makes it possible to split water into oxygen and hydrogen using solar power. This discovery may have cleared the roadblock to fossil fuel independence: reducing or eliminating the on-again, off-again nature of many renewable energy sources. The catalyst enables an electrolysis system to work efficiently at room temperature and at ordinary pressure. Like a reverse fuel cell, it splits water into hydrogen and oxygen molecules. The oxygen and hydrogen can then be used to generate energy on demand.