Innovation in Energy: Producing Green Hydrogen from Recycled Aluminum and Water

Aug. 31, 2023
Canadian engineers have developed a 2MW self-sustaining reactor that produces zero emission, zero carbon, and zero waste hydrogen from recycled aluminum and water

As companies and countries across the globe look to further their net-zero and energy transition goals, many are rejecting fossil fuels in favor of green energy sources. One source gaining considerable attention in recent years is hydrogen.

Hydrogen is a clean fuel source known for only producing water as its byproduct, and it is playing a valuable role in several industries, such as transportation and power generation.

But, while using hydrogen doesn’t generate any carbon emissions, the process of making it typically does. According to MIT, almost all hydrogen is produced using fossil fuel-based processes, presenting several challenges in creating a truly green fuel source.

However, a team of Canadian engineers at GH Power have developed a reactor that they hope will resolve these issues and present a viable source for producing green hydrogen at scale.

The reactor, which began final Phase II testing in June 2023 and is set to begin commercial operations in Q4 2023, operates continuously to extract baseload energy and hydrogen from the rapid oxidation of metal in water.

Specifically, GH Power’s 2-MW reactor produces zero emissions, zero carbon, and zero waste using only two inputs – recycled aluminum and water. Aluminum metal readily reacts with water at room temperature, forming aluminum hydroxide and hydrogen. The reactor only requires a small amount of energy to start up, after which the system is a self-sustaining operation and a net generator of power to the grid.

In a separate report released by MIT, the institution also expressed its interest in producing hydrogen from recycled aluminum and has performed its own studies into the feasibility and benefits of utilizing this renewable energy generating process. 

“Fundamentally, the aluminum becomes a mechanism for storing hydrogen – and a very effective one,” said Douglas Hart, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT. “Using aluminum as our source, we can ‘store’ hydrogen at a density that is ten times greater than if we just store it as a compressed gas.”

Along with hydrogen, the reactor also produces heat and green high-purity alumina. The exothermic heat from the reaction can be used to generate high-quality steam and hot water for industrial applications. The alumina can be utilized by several technology markets, including semiconductors, LED products, and lithium-ion batteries.

According to GH Power, their reactor is 60% cheaper at producing hydrogen than typical production methods and 85% cheaper at producing green alumina than most commonly used processes, such as hydrochloric acid leaching and hydrolysis from alumina production.

GH Power’s reactor project is supported by $2.2 million in federal funding from the National Research Council of Canada as part of the Transatlantic commitment with Germany to collaborate on the exporting of clean Canadian hydrogen to Europe. The award helps support continued research on the optimum fuel mixture for the reactor and the ultimate refinement of its high-purity alumina.

“Unlocking the potential of hydrogen is an essential part of our government’s plan for a sustainable economic future – not just for the domestic opportunities for emissions reduction but also for its potential as an export opportunity: to provide clean energy to countries around the globe,” said the Honorable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Natural Resources.