Cheaper hydrogen through nickel

Chemical engineers at the University of Wisconsin have developed a nickel-based catalyst that could lead to an inexpensive way to produce hydrogen. The Raney-nickel catalyst, named after the scientist who patented the Raney alloy in 1927, can generate hydrogen from common plant sources by converting their byproducts to carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrogen gas (H2). Platinum can also perform this trick, but the precious metal is costly and often in short supply. Motivated by the demand for a lower-cost alternative, the Wisconsin researchers developed Raney-nickel, a nickel-aluminium alloy that is 90% nickel by weight. The discovery may provide, for the first time, a cost-efficient means of producing hydrogen for fuel cells using renewable resources. The research will continue to be developed and commercialised by Virent Energy Systems, which is building a larger scale reactor to test the process. Wisconsin’s Division of Energy, intrigued by the potential for the APR process to convert waste steams from food generators and other businesses into energy, is providing grants to Virent.

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