Keep Your Powder Dry

US Army Research Laboratory Discover Powder Energy Source

US Army Research Laboratory

US Army Research Laboratory is lightening the load for soldiers with an aluminum-based powder which can hydrolyse water. Also, 3D printable!

Researchers have discovered a powder which could one day be 3D printed into drones which use their own structures as power. They’d also self-destruct after a completed mission.

Although this outlandish idea sounds like a science-fiction fever dream, US Army Research Laboratory scientists are very optimistic. The reason for this hope is that the special powder produces high amounts of energy when mixed with water.

The nanogalvanic aluminum-based powder bubbles away when mixed with water due to hydrolysis. Essentially, the powder splits the water into oxygen and hydrogen.

What took the scientists by surprise was that hydrolysis usually requires a catalyst of some sort, such as a chemical, heat or electricity. However, the nanogalvanic aluminum-based powder appears to work just as effectively without.

Anit Giri, a physicist on the team, explains:

“In our case, it does not need a catalyst… Also, it is very fast. For example, we have calculated that one kilogram (2.2 lb) of aluminum powder can produce 220 kilowatts of energy in just three minutes. That’s a lot of power to run any electrical equipment. These rates are the fastest known without using catalysts such as an acid, base or elevated temperatures.”

US Army Research Laboratory is Lightening the Load

The fact that the powder can be 3D printed opens up some exciting possibilities. But for now, the researchers are focusing on aiding soldiers with recharging during a mission.

The powder certainly has the potential to unburden soldiers of heavy electronic equipment and batteries. Currently, food and power supplies begin dwindling quickly as soldiers are unable to carry a lot while trekking. The easy to carry powder would keep soldiers in the field for longer than the current few days.

In order to test the powder, the researchers used a model tank. They then drove this radio-controlled device around the lab — for science.

Although further testing is necessary, the team already believe that there is huge energy potential from this powder. In fact, they predict the power output would double if they could harness the heat given off.

Scott Grendahl, team leader on the project, says:

“There are other researchers who have been searching their whole lives and their optimized product takes many hours to achieve, say 50 percent efficiency… Ours does it to nearly 100 percent efficiency in less than three minutes.”

Important to note, however, is that the team still have a lot of work ahead of them. Currently, they’re working on developing the powder and finding useful applications. The next steps will be to document their findings in scholarly papers and intellectual property protections.