Someday soon, John J. Rusek hopes to thumb his nose at gasoline pumps and instead switch to hydrogen peroxide. Purified forms of the stuff sold in drugstores can be potent. The Pentagon is working on peroxide-based rocket fuel, and the U.S. Navy tried to come up with a fuel cell that would produce electricity chemically, by reacting aluminum with peroxide. After the Navy gave up on the fuel cell, Rusek, an assistant professor of aeronautics at Purdue University, wanted to give it another whirl.
What tripped up the Navy was a sludge that forms on pure aluminum when it's submerged in peroxide. That caused the chemical reaction to conk out. Rusek couldn't afford pure aluminum, so he used an alloy. "That was serendipitous," Rusek says, because it turns out that the sludge doesn't form on certain alloys. An aluminum-peroxide fuel cell "could have dramatic impact on EVs," or electric vehicles, says Rusek, because its power density is 20 times greater than lead-acid batteries.
Next, Rusek hopes to sell the Pentagon on installing prototype fuel cells in vehicles. Detroit is so cautious, he explains, that "the only way to sell the auto companies is to show them a Humvee that's been working for two years."