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Energetic Electrolysis:

The Potentials of Hydrogen Power ActivityGuide





Description: This activity uses electrolysis to introduce the science
behind hydrogen power. Visitors will use an electrical current to
separate water into hydrogen and oxygen gas. The audience will
then observe a demonstration showing the explosive properties of
hydrogen gas.
Audience: Hands-on activity for families and kids ages 7 and up
Length: Approximately 25 minutes

Learning Objectives

Thecomponentsofwatercanbeseparatedintooxygenandhydrogenusingan
electricalcurrent,aprocessiscalledelectrolysis
Ifhydrogengasisgeneratedusingarenewableenergysourcesuchaswindor
solar,ithasalotofpotentialasacleanenergysource
Oncehydrogengashasbeencapturedandstoreditcanbeusedtopowercars,
homes,orcomputers
Hydrogenpowerisoneexampleofhowtechnologicalinnovationscanbeused
toaddressenergyandenvironmentalconcerns

Climate Connection

Electrolysisistheprocessofusinganelectricalcurrenttoseparatewaterinto
hydrogenandoxygengas.Theelectricalchargethatisappliedtowaterwillbreak
thechemicalbondbetweenthehydrogenandoxygenatomsandproducecharged
particlescalledions.Forthepurposesofthisexperimentthechargedhydrogen
andoxygengasisproducedataluminumfoilelectrodes.Oncecapturedand
stored,hydrogengascanberunthroughafuelcelltopowercars,homes,even
computers.

Hydrogengasproducedthroughelectrolysiscanbeusedforpowerwhenrun
throughafuelcell.Afuelcellcombinesseparatedhydrogenandoxygentomake
electricity.Inthepastseveralyearswehaveseengreatadvancesinfuelcell
technologyandanaccompanyingincreaseinexcitementaroundthepotentialsfor
hydrogenpowertoreplacefossilfuelenergysources.

Thereareseveralobstaclestoovercomeifwearetousehydrogenasanenergy
source.Hydrogengasisveryflammable,andtherearesafetyissuessurroundingits
storageandtransport.Theexplosivepropertyofhydrogenisdemonstratedinthis


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EnergeticElectrolysis ActivityGuide

activityandservesasagoodlaunchingpointfordiscussingstorageissues.
Currentlyscientistsareworkingondevelopingsafetransportandstoragesystems
forhydrogengas.

Theproductionofhydrogengasisnotalwayscleanandgreen.Infactmost
hydrogengasproducedintheUnitedStatestodayismadeusingnonrenewable
resourcessuchaselectricityproducedfromcoalfiredpowerplantsthatproduce
theelectricitynecessaryforelectrolysis.

Hydrogendoeshavethepotentialtobeacleanenergycarrieriftheelectrical
currentnecessaryforelectrolysisisproducedfromarenewableenergysourcesuch
assolarorwindpower.Imagesofoffshorehydrogenpowerplantspoweredby
solarpanelshaveincreasedtheexcitementaroundhydrogenpower.Inadditionto
havingplentifulsunlight,thesaltyoceanwaterhelpstoconductelectricitythat
allowsforelectrolysistooccur.Usinghydrogenpowerandfuelcellstostore
renewableenergycanreduceouruseofpollutionproducingenergysourcessuch
asfossilfuels,thereforereducingpollutionandhelpingtoslowtherateofclimate
change.



Thetechnologytousehydrogenasapowersourcewasfirst
developedforuseonthespacestation.

Materials

Forthepresenter
Onesetofthematerialsforeachpairofvisitors
Matches
2largetesttubes

Foreachpairofvisitors
One6voltlanternbattery
2smallstripsofaluminumfoil
Smallplasticcontainer(withacenterdivider)
2alligatorclips
Tapwater
Sodiumsulfateorsodiumchloride(tablesalt)

Note:Practicethedemonstrationbeforeconductingthedemonstration!Thisishighly
recommendedastheexplosionpartofthedemocanbealittletricky!

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EnergeticElectrolysis ActivityGuide

Set Up

Setuptakesapproximately10minutes

Step1:Preparethesaltwatersolutionaddingoneheapingspoonfulofsodium
chlorideorsodiumsulfatepercupofwater.

Step2:Preparethematerialsingroupssothateach
groupofvisitorswillhaveaccesstoabattery,two
alligatorclips,twopiecesofaluminumfoil,andthe
plasticcontainerwithsaltwater.

Step3:Practicethedemonstration.
Createabasicelectrolysissetupusingthelanternbattery,2alligatorclips,
aluminumfoilelectrodesandsodiumsulfate(orsalt)watersolution.
Note:Dontlettheelectrodestouch;thiswillshortoutthebattery.

Completelysubmergethetesttubeintothewaterandslidetheelectrode
intothetesttube.(Ithelpstofillthetesttubewithsaltywater,then
submergeittopreventairfromenteringthetube.)Oncetheelectrolysis
hasbegunthehydrogenandoxygengaswilldisplacethewaterinthetest
tube.

Afterhalfofthewaterinthetesttubehasbeendisplacedbyhydrogengas,
unclipthealligatorclipsandstoptheelectrolysis.

Slowlypullthetesttubewithhydrogengasoutof
thewatersolution,beingcarefultokeepthetest
tubepointeddownsothegasdoesntescape.
Pullthetesttubeupslowlyandavoidhaving
waterflowupthetesttube.

Holdingthelitmatchunderthetesttubeslowlytiltthetesttube.They
hydrogengaswillencountertheflameandaquickexplosionwilloccur.

Program Delivery

[Connectthealligatorclipsonthedemonstrationsetupandbegintheelectrolysis.]

[Welcomevisitors.Explainthateachpairofparticipantsshouldsitinfrontofa
battery.Explaintoparentsthatthisisafamilyactivity,andtheyshouldworkwith
theirchildrenifneeded.]

Todaysprogramisallaboutenergy.Wheredoesenergycomefrom?[thesun,
wind,water,coal,oil,wood,etc.Trywritinganswersdownandgroupingtheminto
twocategories,renewableandnonrenewables.]

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EnergeticElectrolysis ActivityGuide

Wearegoingtotalkaboutanexcitingwaytostoreenergythatisproducedfrom
thesun,wind,coal,oranyoftheotherenergysourcesyousuggested.Thisisthe
formationofhydrogengas.

Whoknowsanythingaboutusinghydrogenforpower?[Participantsmaycomment
oncombustibility,hydrogenpower,hydrocars,etc.]

Hydrogenisagasthat,ifstoredandharnessedcorrectly,canhelpuspowercars,
homes,orevencomputersinaclean,greenway.Thetechnologytousehydrogen
asapowersourcewasfirstdevelopedforuseonthespacestation.Inordertoget
hydrogengasweneedtoseparatewatermolecules.

Whoknowthetwopartsofwater?[HydrogenandOxygen,H2O]

ThechemicalformulaforwaterisH2O[Writethissymboldownifappropriate.]
Everywatermoleculeincludestwoatomsofhydrogenandoneatomofoxygen.
Weuseaprocesscalledelectrolysistobreakapartwatermoleculesintohydrogen
andoxygen.Electrolysisusesanelectricalcurrenttosplitthemoleculeapart.

Inthisactivitywearegoingtosplitwatermoleculesintohydrogenandoxygen
gasesusingelectrolysis.

Inorderforelectrolysistoworkyouneedtousethematerialsthatyouhavein
frontofyou.[Showvisitorsthematerials.]Becauseweareworkingwith
electricity,itisveryimportantthatyoulistentoinstructionscarefully.

Thebatteryprovidestheelectricalcurrentthatweneedtoseparatethewater
moleculeintohydrogenandoxygen.Thepowerthatwentintomanufacturingor
producingthisbatteryprobablycamefromanonrenewableresource.Ifthepower
forelectrolysiscomesfromarenewableresource,thenhydrogenpowerisavery
cleanenergysourcebecauseitdoesnotresultintheproductionofcarbondioxide,
themaingreenhousegasresponsibleforclimatechange.

Theplasticcontainerwillholdthewaterthatwewillseparate.Salt(orsodium
sulfate)hasbeenaddedtothewaterbecauseitconductselectricity.

CanyouthinkofaplaceonEarthwerewehavelotsofsaltywater?[theocean]
Manypeopleareexcitedabouthydrogenpowerbecausewecanusethehydrogen
separatedfromoceanwater.

Nextweneedtomakeelectrodesusingpiecesofaluminumfoil.Inordertoattract
thesetwopartsofthewatermoleculeswemustattachelectrodesontheendof
ourpowersource,inourcasethebattery.

Theelectrodescarrytheelectricalcurrentfromthebatterytothewaterand
hydrogengasisproducedatoneelectrodeandoxygengasisproducedatthe
other.[Notethatoxygengasisonlyproducedifyouareusingsodiumsulfatein
yourwatersolution]

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EnergeticElectrolysis ActivityGuide


[Demonstratethefollowingprocedure]Letsallmaketwoelectrodes.Becausewe
wantanelectrodewithalotofsurfacearea,wearegoingtotakeathinstripoffoil
andfolditbackandforthaccordionstyle.Firstpushdownyourelectrodesothatit
isflat.

Thealligatorclipswillcarrytheelectricityfromthebatteryintotheelectrodes.Clip
oneelectrodeontheendofeachofyouralligatorclips.

Nextwecanfullysubmergeourelectrodesintothesaltwater.Beforeweconnect
tothebatterypleasemakesurethatyourelectrodesarenottouchingeachother.
Iftheelectrodestoucheachotherwhiletheyareconnectedtothebattery,the
batterywillbedamaged.[Stresstheimportanceofthis:iftheelectrodestouch,it
willruinthebattery.]

Nowclipeachfreeendofyouralligatorclipsontothespringsofyourbattery.
Whatdoyousee?(Gasbubbleswillbeproducedoneachelectrode.Thereshould
bemoregasbubblesontheelectrodethatisattachedtothenegative,cathodeside
wherethehydrogengasisproduced)

Doyounoticemoregasbeingproducedatoneoftheelectrodes?[Therewillbe
moregasproducedatthecathode,negativeside,wherethehydrogengasis
produced.]

Whydoyouthinkthereismoregasproducedthere?[Theelectrolysisissplitting
waterorH2O.Foreachwatermoleculeweseetwiceasmuchhydrogengasthan
oxygengas.][Note:Thisisonlyaccurateifyouareusingasodiumsulfatesolution.]

Great,whatyouareseeingistheproductionofhydrogenandoxygengas!

Whydoyouthinktherearemoregasbubblesononeelectrodethantheother?
[Foreverywatermoleculethatseparates,thereistwiceasmuchhydrogen(H20).]

Howdoweknowthatweareactuallytrappinghydrogengas?[Runatest,useour
observationskills,etc.]

Onepropertyofhydrogengasisthatitisveryflammable.Infacthydrogengasisso
flammablethatscientistsareconcernedaboutwaystosafelystorelargeamounts
ofhydrogengas.

[Showvisitorsthedemonstrationyouhavesetuptocapturehydrogengas.]Slowly
pullthetesttubewithhydrogengasoutofthewatersolution,beingcarefulto
keepthetesttubepointeddownsothegasdoesntescapeandtoavoidhaving
waterflowupthetesttube.

[Holdingthelitmatchunderthetesttube,slowlytiltthetesttube.Thehydrogen
gaswillencountertheflameandaquickexplosionwilloccur.]

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EnergeticElectrolysis ActivityGuide

Frequently Asked Questions

WhatdoIdoifonlyafewbubblesarebeingproducedduringelectrolysis?
Tryaddingmoresodiumsulfateorsalttothewatersolution,ortrybringingthe
electrodesclosertoeachother(rememberingnottoletthemtouch!).

Isnthydrogengasdangerous?Ivehearditisverycombustible.
Althoughinlargeamountshydrogengasisveryexplosive,theamountweare
producingtodaydoesnotriskexplosion.Thequestionofcombustibility,however,
isaconcernintheuseofhydrogenpowerasasourceoflargescaleenergy.

CanIuseadifferentsizedbattery?
Forsafetyconcernswerecommendthatonlya6voltbatterybeused.These
batteriescanbefoundatanygeneralhardwarestore.

Willelectrolysisworkwithoutaddedsaltinthewater?
Sometimes.Ifyouliveinaplacewithhighamountsofironinyourtapwater,the
ironmayactasagoodenoughconductortoproducegas.

Whatisthedifferencebetweenusingsodiumchloride(tablesalt)andsodiumsulfate?
Bothsaltandsodiumsulfateserveasaconductorofelectricity,whichincreasesthe
amountofhydrogengasproducedbytheelectrolysis.Whensaltisused,it
produceschlorinegas,insteadofoxygenontheanodesideofthecurrent.Usinga
sodiumsulfateandwatersolutionwillcauseoxygengastoform.
(*Note:Theamountofchlorinegasthatisproducedwhenusingasaltsolutionis
verysmallandisnotaconcern.)

Whatisthedifferencebetweenafuelcellandabattery?
Fuelcellsconsumepowerfromanexternalsourcethatneedstobereplenished,
whilebatteriesstoreelectricalenergychemically.Inthecaseofahydrogenfuel
cell,theexternalsourceishydrogenasfuel,andoxygenisanoxidantduring
combustion.




Credits
Thisprojectismadepossiblebyagrantfromthe
U.S.InstituteofMuseumandLibraryServices
Copyright2010,Sciencenter,Ithaca,NY.


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