"Palladium is $11,000 a kilogram, and even if you didnt choke at the price, there isnt enough palladium in the entire world to convert the worlds automobiles to hydrogen power," Russell said. "So the trick is to find a material with the same properties as palladium that is cheaper and much more readily available."
His use of the word trick isnt a stretch. Not only does the material have to be less expensive and readily available, it has to allow hydrogen to pass through it and be ductile enough to be drawn into long, thin tubes. It also has to resist oxidation, because oxygen and water vapor are commonly present in impure hydrogen. And finally, hydrogen has a nasty habit of making metals brittle, so the metal also has to handle repeated heating and cooling cycles, while loaded with hydrogen, without becoming brittle.
"With so many variables, we dont really have any analytical tools that would let us mathematically predict the ideal composition," Russell said, "so we have to use a Thomas Edison approach relying on intuition and a fair amount of luck to come up with a combination that works."
The three-year project is being spearheaded by Robert Buxbaum, president of REB Research, a Michigan firm involved in hydrogen filtration and fuel-cell technology. Buxbaum is particularly interested in a membrane reactor which combines hydrogen generation and filtration right at the fuel cell. Buxbaum obtained $2.8 million from DOE to find substitutes for platinum and palladium. Besides Russell and visiting Chinese scientist Jie Zhang, the project includes Larry Jones, director of Ames Laboratorys Materials Preparation Center, as well as researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the National Energy Technology Laboratory, and G&S Titanium, an Ohio-based materials fabrication firm.
Buxbaum proposed developing 100 different alloys, relying on the expertise of Russell and Jones in the field of metals development to pick th
Contact: Kerry Gibson