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Russia and other developed countries are now placing their stakes on what many call a technological breakthrough in power engineering because the currently available energy sources are limited. When this planet "runs out" of its resources of oil and gas, we shall be faced with the vital problem of using new types of fuels. And experts tell us that the time for this search is rather limited. This being so, specialists pin their hopes on using hydrogen as the main energy-carrier*.
In the opinion of the RAS Vice-President Acad. Gennady Mesyats, transition to this new technology means large-scale production, storage, and distribution (including transportation) of H2 for the purpose of energy generation with the help of new fuel elements. Used as raws can be methane, coal, wood, industrial and agricultural wastes. And the new fuel can also be obtained by water hydrolysis.
Since 1990s to this day specialists have been working on the development of fuel elements with the capacity from 1 kWt to 1 MWt. These can be used in automobile engines in combination with electric motors. Apart from that, there will soon appear new portable sources of electricity (of less than 100 Wt) which can be used for computers, cellular telephones and even cameras. Plans are prepared for the production of solid-polymer fuel elements on hydrogen which will be mainly used on automobile transport. For the time being their cost remains rather high: 1 kWt of rated power in the best units of this kind runs from 3 to 5 thous. US dollars (acceptable price of one thous. dollars can be expected in the nearest future).
Experts point to a very effective "combinations" of fuel elements with devices based on solar batteries. When energy consumption is low, the electricity they produce can be used for water hydrolysis and production of H2 . The latter goes into a storage unit and can later be used when necessary for electricity production in hydrogen electrochemical generators.
Today all of these problems are being tackled by some 20 RAS scientific-research centers and organizations (in Moscow, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk). In the Institute of Catalysis named after G. Boreskov of the RAS Siberian Branch, which has a good experimental base and testing equipment, experts are studying the possibility of using palladium, platinum and other metals of this group for the production of hydrogen. They have developed a number of catalysts for hydrogen production from methane with its subsequent purification with the help of special membranes. Encouraging results in studies of this kind have also been achieved at the RAS Institute of General and Inorganic Chemistry named after N. Kurnakov, the RAS Institute of Petrochemical Synthesis named after A. Topchiev and the Institute of Electrophysics of the RAS Ural Branch.
The Ural Electrochemical Combine is the pioneer in the development of electrochemical generators with the capacity of tens of kilowatts. In 1971 its specialists developed a unit of this kind. It is called VOLNA, is based on alkaline fuel elements and is intended for our lunar program (capacity of 1.2 kWt). In 1988 they produced the FOTON system for the BURAN space vehicle (10 kWt). In 1999 scientists developed modules of two nickel-hydrogen batteries for the Y\MAL space probe. That means that hydrogen can be used not only for fuel elements, but also for storage batteries. Incidentally, in 2001 and 2003 the Ural Electrochemical Combine, the ENERGIYA Rocket-Space Corporation and AvtoVAZ plant demonstrated at shows in Moscow an automobile with an electric motor and electrochemical generator FOTON.
As Acad. G. Mesyats points out, Russia is keeping abreast with the West in dealing with problems of hydrogen energetics and in the development of the most effective new fuel elements. RAS scientists today are focusing their efforts on the following main directions: development of advanced technologies of production and utilization of hydrogen; further research into the rational and effective uses of palladium and metals of the platinum group; development of "clean" power units, electrochemical generators of a "broad" class, etc.
Our domestic R&D experts gain added confidence from the fact that major industrial state companies and private firms are taking keen interest in advanced scientific technologies and projects with the view of boosting the competitiveness of their "output". The participation of RAS in the program GMK NORILSKY NIKEL is a kind of a pilot experiment concerning a new organization of fundamental and applied research and other innovative activities. Its successful implementation will pave the way for broad cooperation with other members of this country's business community.
Economicheskaya i filosofskaya gazeta, 2004 (Economics and Philosophy Gazette)
Prepared by Ya. SIBIRTSEV
* See: Ya. Renkas, "On the Road of Innovations and Investments"; A. Eidelman, "New Engines on Display"; B. Sokolov, S. Khudyakov, "Fuel of the Future"; V. Rusanov, "Hydrogen and Hydrogen Power Engineering", Science in Russia, Nos. 3, 4, 6, 2004. - Ed.
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