Access to clean drinking water is a major issue for people all over the world, and many of those people currently lack access to grid-fired electricity. What if the same technology could produce both potable water and electricity?
New research from Purdue University suggests that this may be possible, via a process involving an aluminum alloy currently under development by Jerry Woodall, a Purdue University distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering.
This alloy contains aluminum, gallium, indium and tin; when it’s immersed water–either freshwater or salt–a spontaneous reaction occurs that turns the water into steam, generating hydrogen and aluminum tri-hydroxide (until the point when the aluminum is used up). The hydrogen derived through this process could then be fed to a fuel cell to generate electricity, producing purified water–or it could be used for other applications.
Because this patent-pending technology works with saltwater, it could have aplications in powering boats or robotic underwater vehicles. And, of course, it might be used to produce “blue gold” (freshwater) from the world’s abundant oceans, via the process of desalination. Woodall notes that the steam process works to kill any bacteria that may be present in the water, rendering it safe for human consumption.