Feb. 18, 2011 How does a Michigan State University scientist fuel his enthusiasm for chemistry after 60 years? By discovering a new energy source, of course.
This week, SiGNa Chemistry Inc. unveiled its new hydrogen cartridges, which provide energy to fuel cells designed to recharge cell phones, laptops and GPS units. The green power source is geared toward outdoor enthusiasts as well as residents of the Third World, where electricity in homes is considered a luxury.
The spark for this groundbreaking technology came from the laboratory of James Dye, SiGNa's co-founder and University Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Emeritus at MSU. His work with alkali metals led to a green process to harness the power of sodium silicide, which is the source for SiGNa's new product.
"In our lab, we were able to produce alkali metal silicides, which basically are made from sodium and silicon, which, in turn, are produced from salt and sand," Dye said. "By adding water to sodium silicide, we're able to produce hydrogen, which creates energy for fuel cells. The byproduct, sodium silicate, is also green. It's the same stuff found in toothpaste."
SiGNa was able to build on Dye's research and develop a power platform that produces low-pressure hydrogen gas on demand, convert it to electricity via a low-cost fuel cell and emit simple water vapor.
Dye, director of SiGNa's scientific council, said that making the jump to research the company's products was a small one.
"I've been working with alkali metals for 50 years," he said. "My research was closely related to what SiGNa was looking for. So when they came to me with their idea, it was a relatively easy adaptation to make."
Using a similar process, Dye was able to assist the creation of a fuel source to power electric bicycles. The fuel cell, developed by SiGNa's partners, ranges in size from 1 watt to 3 kilowatts and is capable of pushing a bicycle up to 25 mph for approximately 100 miles.
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