May 082011
 

Researchers have developed an aluminum alloy that could be used in a new type of mobile technology to convert non-potable water into drinking water while also extracting hydrogen to generate electricity.

Such a technology might be used to provide power and drinking water to villages and also for military operations, said Jerry Woodall, a Purdue University distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering.

The alloy contains aluminum, gallium, indium and tin. Immersing the alloy in freshwater or saltwater causes a spontaneous reaction, splitting the water into hydrogen and oxygen molecules. The hydrogen could then be fed to a fuel cell to generate electricity, producing water in the form of steam as a byproduct, he said.

“The steam would kill any bacteria contained in the water, and then it would condense to purified water,” Woodall said. “So, you are converting undrinkable water to drinking water.”

Because the technology works with saltwater, it might have marine applications, such as powering boats and robotic underwater vehicles. The technology also might be used to desalinate water, said Woodall, who is working with doctoral student Go Choi.

A patent on the design is pending.

Woodall envisions a new portable technology for regions that aren’t connected to a power grid, such as villages in Africa and other remote areas.

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