Hydrogen fuel is also an energy carrier. In fact, many
will argue that is all hydrogen fuel is. Since hydrogen
does not occur on Earth in any significant amounts by
itself it must be separated from its chemical bonds such
as with methane or water.
Hydrogen fuel to the laymen
is what one puts in one's car. When you drive your
hydrogen car (with internal combustion engine or
fuel cell) up to an H2 fueling pump, you refuel
your car. The hydrogen is then "burned"
in the internal combustion engine or used in fuel
cell which in turn propels the vehicle and emits
only a small amount of steam.
Hydrogen is also used as a propellant is NASA rockets
and hydrogen peroxide is used as fuel in some jetpacks
and racecars. Many who argue that hydrogen fuel is really
an energy carrier are battery electric car enthusiasts.
What they fail to mention is that electrical batteries
and capacitors, commonly found in electric cars are also
energy carriers. At least to Wikipedia, an energy carrier
is a "system or substance that contains energy for
conversion as usable energy later or somewhere else."
Coal, petroleum and methane are considered energy sources
or fuels since the energy is already in them as they are
found in nature. They don't have to be altered into another
Term Limits ...
But, for most people hydrogen
fuel is a perfectly adequate term to describe a volatile,
flammable and combustible substance that propels one's
car, trucks, motorcycle, airplane or other vehicle.
The reason many prefer hydrogen fuel cars to many other
types of vehicles is the low or zero emissions. Hydrogen
fuel cell cars typically give off zero emissions, while
hydrogen cars with internal combustion engines give off
near zero emissions.
Some criticize electric cars as not being true zero emissions
vehicles since the majority of electricity in this country
is generated by coal. The majority of hydrogen fuel, however,
is now generated by steam reforming natural gas, which
is a cleaner process than burning coal.
|And another way to produce
hydrogen fuel is through the electrolysis
of water. Solar panels, wind turbines, hydro power
and geothermal energy can all be used to produce
hydrogen using clean renewable energy.
There is also much research now being conducted to produce
direct solar to hydrogen using nanotechnology. Other production
methods involve using algae, bateria, waste water treatment
plants, garbage dumps, and other chemical methods to produce
Presently, the United
are the leaders in producing hydrogen fuel and H2 cars.
Germany is making a push with its H2
Mobility plan to quickly build a hydrogen refueling
infrastructure in that country so that commercial rollout
of H2 vehicles will be possible by the year 2015.
And if you would like 436 pages of additional "light
reading" here is a document
about hydrogen as a future energy carrier.
The most common method of producing hydrogen fuel today
is steam reforming of natural gas. Hydrogen is not only
produced by extracting it from the natural gas (methane)
but from extracting it from the steam (H2O) as well. There
are some home systems such as a prototype developed by
Honda that produce hydrogen fuel by this method.
Electrolysis of Water ...
Another common and promising
way to produce hydrogen fuel is by electrolysis of water.
Some critics argue that there is a net loss in energy
when one applies brute force electrolysis to water. And
for the moment they are correct. But, the critics are
not as correct as they think.
For instance, manufacturers of hydrogen
generators have developed methods to use increasing
lower amounts of electricity to split water into hydrogen.
Different proprietary chemical or metal electrolytes or
catalysts are used in loosening the bonds between hydrogen
and oxygen atoms that make up water. With looser chemical
bonds means less electricity needs to be used for electrolysis.
Other critics argue that another of the cons of producing
hydrogen fuel is that only renewable energy such as wind,
solar, geothermal or hydroelectric can be used otherwise
it is not as clean as possible. There is something to
this argument. Just as electric cars are not clean since
most of the electricity in the U. S. still comes from
coal, the electricity from the grid to produce hydrogen
is not clean either.
So, what this means optimally is that renewable energy
will be used to produce hydrogen from water. One company
doing just this is SunHydro which is building the East
Coast Hydrogen Highway based upon using solar energy
to split water and produce hydrogen fuel for cars.
Of course the pros of hydrogen
fuel may seem obvious. Hydrogen is the most abundant element
in the universe, including planet Earth. And using hydrogen
in a fuel cell only produces a little water and heat.
H2 is the ultimate clean fuel.
Now, there are several other ways to produce hydrogen
fuel which need to be mentioned including from algae,
artificial photosynthesis, direct solar, biomass, nuclear
power and coal gasification.
Certain strains of green algae (Cyanobacteria genes)
act like typical plants in that they absorb carbon dioxide
and release oxygen. But several particular strains of
green algae also give off hydrogen as well.
There are also certain strains of viruses that can create
artificial photosynthesis and create hydrogen fuel. The
MIT research team has named one such virus M13. Direct
solar energy is used to stimulate the virus into producing
hydrogen fuel. No electricity is needed.
Then there are other researchers who use other methods
of direct solar energy to create hydrogen fuel without
using viruses. One such company is Rose Street Labs in
Phoenix that uses an invention called a photoelectrochemical
cell (PEC) to create hydrogen directly from sunlight and
Biomass is another place
in which hydrogen fuel can be harvested. Sewage plants,
landfills and farms are three places that create much
biomass. There are many processes to create hydrogen fuel
from biomass. For instance, landfills and farms can have
high concentrations of methane, ammonia or both which
are hydrogen rich chemical compounds.
It must also be mentioned that hydrogen fuel can be chemically
"contained" and used cleanly. Two such cases
are ammonia (NH3) and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). Both of
these chemical compounds are made up mostly of hydrogen
and when used as fuel zero emissions are produced.
Some people don't like the idea of using nuclear energy
to create hydrogen fuel since nuclear waste is a particularly
unpopular environmental issue that needs to be dealt with.
But, the plans on the table do not call for building new
nuclear power plants to create hydrogen.
The scientists and researchers have mostly decided that
using nuclear power plants that are currently online may
be able to produce hydrogen fuel as a byproduct of the
water that they are already using to cool the reactors.
Going Nuclear ...
Nuclear reactors are typically
cooled by water which turns into steam. There is much
research being developed around the high temperature cracking
of water into hydrogen and oxygen that basically uses
the byproduct steam from the nuclear reactors to create
Another unpopular method to create hydrogen fuel involves
the gasification of coal. It just so happens that coal
is rich in hydrogen and carbon. It has been stated that
there are enough coal reserves in the U. S. to take care
of our energy needs for the next 250 years.
In order to do this cleanly however is another matter.
One pro of creating hydrogen fuel with this method is
that it detaches us from dependency on foreign fossil
fuels. This could be a near-term solution it is argued
to get away from dependency on Middle Eastern countries
and others like Venezuela that are not particularly friendly
to U. S. interests.
In order for creating hydrogen fuel through coal gasification
to work cleanly, however, the carbon that is also derived
from the process needs to be sequestered someplace so
that it doesn't contribute to greenhouse gases and global
Some scientists suggest sequestering the carbon inside
of underground caverns, abandoned mines and inside of
old oil wells that are no longer used. Some even want
to pipe it miles out to sea. This notion at best could
be one interim solution until clean, renewable energy
sources can be developed to the point where they overtake
the fossil fuel marketplace.
Going Mobile ...
Hydrogen fuel can be used
in both mobile fuel cells and stationary fuel cells. Mobile
fuel cells would include the transportation industry such
as cars, trucks and buses. Stationary fuel cells can be
used in power plants, businesses, homes and even cell
phones and laptop computers.
The above outline contains just some of the many ways
to produce hydrogen fuel and how it can be used in everyday
life. Scientists and researchers are working around the
clock to come up with new and improved ways to produce
H2 for cars, homes and business.
Breakthrough, disruptive technology is just around the
corner for producing hydrogen fuel abundantly, cheaply
and cleanly so that we all may breathe a little easier.
For more information see these blog categories:
Written by Hydro Kevin Kantola