Scientists and engineers at the US Army Research Laboratory have discovered an aluminum nanomaterial which produces high amounts of energy when it comes in contact with water. The discovery has great potential implications for future power and energy applications.

During routine materials experimentation, researchers observed a bubbling reaction when adding water to a nano-galvanic aluminum-based powder. The reaction surprised the researchers who found that water splits into hydrogen and oxygen when it comes into contact with their unique aluminum nanomaterial.

Scientists have known for a long time that hydrogen can be produced by adding a catalyst to aluminum. But these all take time, elevated temperature, added electricity and/or toxic chemicals such as sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide or acid.

The new process does not need a catalyst and is very fast. For example, one kilogram of aluminum powder can produce 220 kilowatts of energy in just three minutes. The process also produces heat which, if captured,  would double the energy output.

The researchers see one possible application of the discovery being to recharge mobile devices in the field. A more exotic possibility is to use the material to 3D print robots which would extract energy from their own structure and self-destruct when their mission is complete.