Aluminium Pucks Fuel Hydrogen Trucks

In the race toward a future free from fossil fuels, hydrogen is rapidly gaining ground. On paper, hydrogen sounds fantastic — it’s clean-burning with zero emissions, the refuel time is much faster than electric, and hydrogen-fueled vehicles can go longer distances between refuels than their outlet-dependent brethren.

The reality is that hydrogen vehicles usually need fuel cells to convert hydrogen and oxygen into electricity. They also need pressurized tanks to store the gases and pumps for refueling, all of which adds weight, takes up space, and increases the explosive potential of the system.

Kurt Koehler has a better idea: make the hydrogen on demand, in the vehicle, using a solid catalyst and a simple chemical reaction. Koehler is the founder of Indiana-based startup AlGalCo — Aluminium Gallium Company. After fourteen years of R&D and five iterations of his system, the idea is really starting to float. Beginning this summer, these pucks are going to power a few trucks in a town just outside of Indianapolis.

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Dyeing Fabric To Create Sensors

Fabrics with electrical functionality have been around for several years, but are very rarely used in mainstream clothing. The fabrics are very expensive and the supply can be unreliable. Frustrated by this, [Counter Chemists] developed PolySense, simple open-source technology to make any fibrous material into a conductive material that can be used to sense pressure, stretch, capacitive touch, humidity, or temperature.

PolySense uses a process called in-situ polymerization, effectively dying a fabric to become piezoelectric. This is done by first soaking the fabric in a mixture of water and the organic compound pyrrole, and then adding iron chloride to trigger a reaction. The polymerization process that takes place wraps the individual fibers of the fabric in conductive polymer chains.

Instead of just uniformly coating a fabric, various masking techniques can be used to dye patterns onto the fabric for various use cases. The video after the break shows a range of these applications, including using polymerized gloves and leggings for motion capture, a zipper that acts like a linear potentiometer, and touch-sensitive fabric. The project page lists sources for the required chemicals in both Europe and the US, and we look forward to seeing what other applications the community can come up with.

The project is very well documented, with a number of scientific papers covering all the details. [Counter Chemists] will also be presenting PolySense at the 2020 Virtual Maker Faire.

This technology can also be used to make a fabric piano with a lot less effort. On the more mechanical side of things, you can also 3D print on pre-stretched fabric to make it pop into 3D shapes.

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The 19th Century, When Gravity Battery Meant Something Different

The internet is full of dubious content promoting “free energy” devices and other ideas that stretch credibility, so [Robert Murray-Smith] prefaces his demonstration of a gravity battery with a warning to look elsewhere if you are in search of such things. Instead he’s showing us a pair of cells from The Model Engineer and Amateur Electrician, a printed periodical that sounds to us something like an equivalent of Hackaday from the 1890s. (Video embedded below.)

The cells are termed gravity batteries because their constituents settle out into layers not unlike a tequila sunrise under the influence of gravity, something that made them especially suitable for the home constructor in the late 19th century when there were no handy wall outlets from which to snag a bit of power.

The chemistry of each is not unexpected if you spent any time in your high school’s lab, a zinc-copper primary cell with a zinc sulphate/copper sulphate electrolyte and a secondary zinc-carbon cell with a zinc bromide electrolyte and a layer of bromine forming on charging. The construction in large glass vessels is archaic though, and it’s this that’s prompted his video. He poses the question whether this type of cell might be revived using 21st century techniques to produce something of use today. The video is below the break, and even if you are not about to try your hand at electrochemistry it’s an interesting watch.

Thanks [Blaubär] for the tip! Continue reading “The 19th Century, When Gravity Battery Meant Something Different”

Fuel From Water Using Only An Arc Welder

Water, high currents, blinding balls of plasma, and a highly flammable gas that’s toxic enough to kill you in three minutes if you breathe enough of it. What’s not to love about this plasma-powered water gas generator?

In all seriousness, [NightHawkInLight] is playing with some dangerous stuff here, and he’s quite adamant about this one being firmly in the “Don’t try this at home” category. But it’s also fascinating stuff, since it uses nothing but a tank of water and an electric arc to produce useful amounts of fuel very quickly. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that he’s talking about the electrolytic splitting of water into the hydrogen-oxygen mix HHO, but this is something else entirely.

Using a carbon electrode torch connected to his arc welder, a setup that’s similar to the one he used to make synthetic rubies, [NightHawkInLight] is able to strike an underwater arc inside a vessel that looks for all the world like a double-barreled bong. The plasma creates a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen which accumulates very rapidly in the gasometer he built to collect the flammable products produced by a wood gasifier.

The water gas burns remarkably cleanly, but probably has limited practical uses. Unless you live somewhere where electricity costs practically nothing, it’ll be hard to break even on this. Still, it’s an interesting look at what’s possible when plasma and water mix.

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How Can Heavy Metal Fly?

Scientists found a surprising amount of lead in a glacier. They were studying atmospheric pollution by sampling ice cores taken from Alpine glaciers. The surprising part is that they found more lead in strata from the late 13th century than they had in those deposited at the height of the Industrial Revolution. Surely mediaeval times were supposed to be more about knights in shining armour than dark satanic mills, what on earth was going on? Why was the lead industry in overdrive in an age when a wooden water wheel represented high technology?

The answer lies in the lead smelting methods used a thousand miles away from that glacier, and in the martyrdom of a mediaeval saint.

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So What Is Protein Folding, Anyway?

The current COVID-19 pandemic is rife with problems that hackers have attacked with gusto. From 3D printed face shields and homebrew face masks to replacements for full-fledged mechanical ventilators, the outpouring of ideas has been inspirational and heartwarming. At the same time there have been many efforts in a different area: research aimed at fighting the virus itself.

Getting to the root of the problem seems to have the most potential for ending this pandemic and getting ahead of future ones, and that’s the “know your enemy” problem that the distributed computing effort known as Folding@Home aims to address. Millions of people have signed up to donate cycles from spare PCs and GPUs, and in the process have created the largest supercomputer in history.

But what exactly are all these exaFLOPS being used for? Why is protein folding something to direct so much computational might toward? What’s the biochemistry behind this, and why do proteins need to fold in the first place? Here’s a brief look at protein folding: what it is, how it happens, and why it’s important.

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DIY Closed-Cell Silicone Foam

Most of us have a junk drawer, full of spare parts yanked from various places, but also likely stocked with materials we bought for a project but didn’t use completely. Half a gallon of wood glue, a pile of random, scattered resistors, or in [Ken]’s case, closed-cell silicone foam. Wanting to avoid this situation he set about trying to make his own silicone foam and had a great degree of success.

Commercial systems typically rely on a compressed gas of some sort to generate the foam. Ken also wanted to avoid this and kept his process simple by using basic (pun intended) chemistry to generate the bubbles. A mixture of vinegar and baking soda created the gas. After a healthy amount of trial and error using silicone caulk and some thinner to get the mixture correct, he was able to generate a small amount of silicone foam. While there only was a bit of foam, it was plenty for his needs. All without having a stockpile of extra foam or needing to buy any specialized equipment.

We appreciate this project for the ingenuity of taking something relatively simple (an acid-base reaction) and putting it to use in a way we’ve never seen before. While [Ken] doesn’t say directly on the project page what he uses the foam for, perhaps it or a similar type of foam could be used for building walk-along gliders.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons