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Q & A: Boron in fuel cells

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Most recent answer: 10/22/2007
Q:
Turkish press is building up national feelings that our BORON mineral reserves are very important for the new renewable energy technologies. It is claimed that BORON will soon replace oil. Am I correct to think that BORON is not a fuel, but it is used in the manufacturing of FUELCELLS that use Hydrogen as fuel? Please help me clear this point before I go out on the limb to write something to clear this misconception... Thankyou
- Oguz Capan (age 56)
Taslica Village, Turkey
A:
Oguz- I think you're precisely right. Boron is not being proposed as a fuel. There do seem to be a number of fuel cell ideas that use boron alloys as catalysts.

Of course, if you think the Turkish government is exaggerating, you should hear some of the leaders of the U.S. government describe hydrogen as a replacement for foreign oil. It would be, if there were hydrogen mines, but there aren't. All the hydrogen that would be used in fuel cells would be generated using other, standard energy sources: fossil fuels, nuclear power, solar, hydroelectric, wind, etc.

These hydrogen fuel cells may someday make lightweight, clean replacements for batteries in electric vehicles. But we'll still have to get the energy to make the hydrogen from our old sources, with all their problems.

Mike W.

(published on 10/22/2007)

Follow-Up #1: hydrogen from algae

Q:
Have you considered using algae to produce hydrogen? The algae produces hydrogen in the absence of sulphur. Of course, algae grows using sunlight or solar energy but not in the sense of solar energy being used in solar panels to produce electricity. If an economical way could be deviced to produce huge quantities of hydrogen economically, then the hydrogen could be used to generate electricity in big fuel cell generators and connected to the electrical grids. Then the electricity could be converted back to hydrogen by small electrolysers in home garages and stored in car hydrogen tanks and ultimately used to power fuel cell generators in cars.
- Liang
USA
A:
Liang- The idea of using biological organisms to convert solar energy to hydrogen fuel energy is one of the various paths people are trying to follow toward a more sustainable energy supply. Solar energy is by far the main source of renewable energy. I don't know whether algae are the most promising organisms, but some specialist could help you with that.
    One minor aspect of your proposal sounds impractical. No system for converting H2 fuel to electrical power (and back) is very efficient. So it's much more likely that H2 would be directly distributed for use as fuel in cars. Or maybe new lightweight car batteries  might be charged with electricity. Using fuel to make electricity, then using the electricity to make fuel, with small conversion devices in each house, sounds too complicated and inefficient. Generally large-scale devices, maintained by engineers, are more likely to be efficient, although small devices are needed in the vehicles themselves.

Mike W.

(published on 10/22/2007)

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