An assessment of the viability of hydrogen generation from the reaction of silicon powder and sodium hydroxide solution for portable applications

The gravimetric hydrogen storage efficiency of silicon has been widely reported as 14wt.%, suggesting that this material should be an excellent hydrogen generation source for portable applications. However, in the case of the reaction of silicon powder with 20wt.% sodium hydroxide solution at 50°C, the observed production of hydrogen fails to realize these high expectations unless a large excess of basic solution is used during the reaction, rendering the use of silicon in such systems uncompetitive compared with chemical hydride based technologies. By investigating the molar ratio of water:silicon from a large excess of water towards the stoichiometric 2:1 ratio dictated by the reaction equation, this study shows that for the reaction of silicon in 20wt.% sodium hydroxide solution, the quantity of hydrogen produced decreases as the 2:1 ratio expected from the equation for the reaction is approached. Furthermore, in order to reach 80% of the theoretical efficacy, a molar ratio of 20:1, or 12mL of 20wt.% sodium hydroxide solution per gram of silicon, would be required. These results suggest that the actual gravimetric hydrogen storage capacity is less than 1%, casting doubts as to whether the use of silicon for hydrogen generation in real systems would be possible.