plentiful element in the universe could be the key that unlocks
the future of energy. Powerful, clean, and abundant, explore more
to see if hydrogen will be the ultimate renewable resource to power
is the simplest, lightest, and most abundant element in the universe,
and many experts think that it can be harnessed to fuel our future.
Although it does not exist naturally on Earth by itself as a gas,
it can readily be found as part of other compounds, such as water,
natural gas, or biomass.
Energy can be created
from hydrogen by using traditional engines or fuel cells. Just like
with gasoline, an engine can use hydrogen as a fuel for combustion.
A more efficient method of generating energy from hydrogen is by
using a fuel cell. A fuel cell is a device that converts the energy
from a chemical reaction into electricity. In a fuel cell, hydrogen
is broken into protons and electrons. The electrons that are released
are turned into an electric current. The leftover protons combine
with oxygen, to form the fuel cells only emissions
water and heat.
hydrogen can be used to create energy, it must first be separated
from other compounds. Three methods are currently used:
One method of separating
out hydrogen is in a process called "steam reforming."
High-temperature steam separates hydrogen from the carbon atoms
in natural gas. Currently this process is the most cost-effective
way to recover hydrogen, but it relies on fossil fuels to produce
the high-temperature steam. This doesn't really help in the effort
to turn to renewable resources to meet our energy needs.
process used to separate out hydrogen is electrolysis. Water is
split into its basic elements, hydrogen and oxygen, by passing an
electrical current through it. The resulting hydrogen is extremely
pure. While steam reforming relies on fossil fuels, electrolysis
can use electricity generated by renewables like wind or solar.
Electrolysis is much more expensive than steam reforming, resulting
in a more expensive product. If technological advances could reduce
the price of the process, this would be an efficient way to recover
hydrogen, especially since water is such an abundant natural resource.
A third way to recover
hydrogen is to burn biomass. Wood chips and agricultural wastes
are superheated until they turn into hydrogen and other gases. Biomass
itself can be the fuel used to superheat other biomass, making it
a "closed" cycle.
Once the hydrogen
is extracted, it becomes a high-powered, efficient, clean energy
source with almost limitless possible applications.
Currently, one of
the most visible applications of hydrogen power is in NASAs
space program. Liquid hydrogen fuels NASAs spacecrafts, and
hydrogen fuel cells power the electrical systems onboard. The fuel
cell's emission, pure water, is used for drinking by the astronauts.
possible applications of hydrogen that provide the real promise.
Hydrogen, with its high-energy content and low weight, would be
an ideal jet fuel. Hydrogen, fed through fuel cells, could power
electric vehicles. Many large car manufacturers are researching
and producing model cars that use fuel cells. Other companies are
working on fuel cells that can provide electric power for individual
homes, businesses, or cities.
While hydrogen has
the potential to fill many of our future energy needs, there is
a lot of work that needs to be done to make it practical. Oil and
natural gas can run through pipelines to move from one part of the
country to another, but there is no way to ship hydrogen around
within the existing infrastructure. A system of pipes or transportation
methods will have to be developed before hydrogen is used on a national
or even regional level.
There is no large supplier of hydrogen gas either. Large production
facilities will have to be constructed. A system to store and transport
the energy will have to be developed.
to utilize hydrogen as a power source will have to be developed
as well. Fuel cell technology is still in its infancy, and the prototypes
that do exist are very expensive. Without products that use hydrogen,
there is no push to provide hydrogen. And without a dependable source
of hydrogen, manufacturers are not yet investing much effort into
creating products that use hydrogen
agree that hydrogen has great potential.
is abundant. It can be found almost everywhere from the
water you drink, the food you eat, or the environment around
It's lack of weight means fuel economy could be improved with
fuel cell running on hydrogen could be very small, allowing
energy to be generated closer to where it is needed imagine
generating all of the power for your home from a fuel cell in
the event of a spill, hydrogen spreads out into the environment
very quickly, making it virtually harmless.
naturally wants to bond with oxygen, so the byproduct is water.
What an excellent emission!
almost completely dependent on imported energy. Read the
script for a video that looked at a hydrogen future
See how geothermal
energy could help make hydrogen more available.
News Network. "Cleaner Buses Hit the Road in Six Polluted Cities."
October 3, 2001.
Cat. Environment News Service. "DaimlerChrysler Commits $1 Billion
to Fuel Cell Vehicles." June 2001.
not unusual to see buses on city streets, but it is unusual
to see buses that arent belching harmful emissions. More
See animation that demonstrates how Fuel Cells work.