(photo credit: Bloomberg)
Hydrogen, main component of water, has long been regarded as a potentially
ideal, non-polluting and renewable energy source for cars. It is the lightest
and most abundant element, comprising about three-quarters of the universe’s
mass. But problems involved in producing, transporting and storing it in a safe,
economical manner have stymied researchers for years.
Now a doctoral
candidate in chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem believes she has
come up with a practical solution for automotive engines. Clarite Azerraf has
presented her proposal for a unique, in-car, catalyst-based process she says
will produce hydrogen through the use of alcohol or alkanes – saturated chemical
hydrocarbon compounds found mostly in natural gas and oil.
initiative, by Azerraf and her mentor, Prof. Dmitri Gelman, has been patented
through Yissum, the HU’s technology transfer company. For her work, she won one
of this year’s Barenholz Prizes, which was presented last week during the
university’s board of governors meeting. The award is named for its donor, Prof.
Yehezkel Barenholz of the HU-Hadassah Medical School.
Through a reverse
reaction process, Azerraf says she has demonstrated that it is possible to break
up the alcohol or alkane hydrocarbon compounds and receive pure hydrogen and
other versatile products through the use of the metal iridium as a
Iridium, Azerraf says, has been shown to have an exceptional
stability and an ability to catalyze a hydrogen transfer reaction of this
Today, the refined hydrocarbons (gasolines) burned in the presence
of oxygen in our car engines produce the energy that enables the car’s
operation, but also produce carbon dioxide, one of the main greenhouse gases.
The process Azerraf suggests produces an alternative source of energy that she
says will ultimately reduce pollution, since the only waste products are water
With her system, cars will have tanks holding alcohols or
alkanes that will be fed into an on-board reactor containing the iridium-based
catalyst that will produce the hydrogen. When burned, the hydrogen will then
power fuel cells that will produce the energy to operate an electric car engine.
The system will be designed in such way that the fuels will be transported into
the reactor in the right time and amounts as required at any giving moment to
operate the car.
The end result will be quiet, nonpolluting vehicles that
will not consume depleting fossil fuels.
Azerraf acknowledges that there
is currently much and divergent research involving the production of hydrogen,
and that her process is still very far from being implemented. But, she says,
the fact that the iridium catalyst she has developed is the best one known to
date in hydrogen transfer reaction shows its huge potential for the
future.GOING TO THE ‘OPERA’
After seven years since the start of
construction of the OPERA experiment and three years of operation in the
underground Gran Sasso Laboratory of the Italian National Institute of Nuclear
Physics (INFN), one of the many billions of muon neutrinos produced at the CERN
accelerator complex (CNGS) has likely “transformed” into a tau-neutrino observed
by the OPERA apparatus. This is an extremely important result, according to
Haifa’s Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, which was involved in the
discovery. OPERA has been designed, realized and is being conducted by a
170-member team from 33 institutions and 12 countries including Belgium,
Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Russia, Switzerland, Tunisia and
Turkey, as well as Israel.
The observation of a few more of these
tau-neutrino events over a large number of conventional muon-neutrino
interactions will represent the longawaited proof of the direct conversion of
one type of neutrino into another – the so called “neutrino oscillation”
mechanism. This is a crucial milestone for neutrino physics made possible by a
complex scientific enterprise that has been realized thanks to the skill of a
large number of scientists, engineers, technicians and students.
disappearance of the initial neutrino “flavor” has already been observed by
several experiments in the past 15 years, but the “direct appearance” is still
the outstanding missing tile of the puzzle, and the OPERA experiment is unique
worldwide for this purpose.
Neutrino oscillation is today the only
indication of new, fascinating physics beyond the so-called standard
particles and interactions, opening the possibility of unexpected
in cosmology, astrophysics and particle physics. The experiment was
four years ago, when the first “normal” muon neutrinos were detected
trip of 730 kms. from CERN, covered in about 2.4 milliseconds at the
After that, a careful and tireless search started to find the tiny
and very special signal induced by a tau-neutrino.
OPERA accomplishes its
neutrino detection with its “heart,” comprised of more than 150,000
called “bricks,” each equivalent to a sophisticated camera. Thanks to
units, made of a sandwich of lead plates and special photographic films,
researchers can detect details of the “neutrino events” by accurately
the elementary particles produced in the interaction of the neutrino