Among them was Earth’s most abundant element, hydrogen. Although its future looks bright—the only by-product of a hydrogen fuel cell is water, and experts believe they can one day be used to create electricity to fuel cars—the cost and energy required to create hydrogen has taken it out of the running as a near-term energy alternative to oil.
That may be about to change. Researchers at GE’s Global Research lab in Niskayuna, NY, have developed a system that produces hydrogen at a fraction of the cost and could be available commercially in just a few years.
The basic process, electrolysis, is nothing new: Combine water with an electrolyte, and run current through the solution, forcing the water molecules to split into hydrogen and oxygen gases. But electrolysis-formed hydrogen has long been hampered by the high capital cost of the metals used in the process, around “thousands of dollars per kilowatt,” says Richard Bourgeois, GE’s electrolysis project leader. GE’s breakthrough comes from a proprietary material called Noryl, a highly chemical- and temperature-resistant plastic developed by the GE labs, that lowers the cost of hydrogen production to hundreds of dollars per kilowatt, according to Bourgeois.
The article also links back to a previous look on various kinds of alternative fuels. It’s a big read, but the info is very useful.