Hydrogen on the Cheap: Common Metals Replace Platinum in Catalyst

Scientists discover a way to help fuel the hydrogen economy using renewable resources

4 min read

29 August 2003—Topping the list of favorite alternatives to fossil fuels and the climate-changing chemical compounds produced when they are burned is hydrogen. While hydrogen can be either combusted directly, producing only water and heat as byproducts, or used in fuel cells to create electricity, a big obstacle to a hydrogen economy is producing enough of it in pure form to replace all the coal, oil, and natural gas the world now depends on.

Current methods of isolating hydrogen are costly, use more energy than can be gained from the hydrogen, or are harmful to the environment. But researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, say they have improved one process enough to make it both cheap and environmentally benign.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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