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Alternative Methods for Producing Hydrogen

As I search across the Internet and especially the blogosphere, I see many critics of the hydrogen economy stating that hydrogen is generally produced by simple electrolysis of water and this method takes too much energy for hydrogen to be competitive in the marketplace. Most of the time, this is taken by others as fact, especially by those who are not forward thinkers.

For the critics stuck in the here and now with no eye towards the future, the hydrogen economy doesn’t make sense. But, for those who like to look forward to the future of clean energy, I have put together a short list of research that is currently being worked on in the hydrogen production area, from which I’ve already talked about in past posts.

Current Research on Producing Hydrogen

1. Direct solar to hydrogen
2. Hydrogen-on-demand technology using sodium borohydride, phosphonium borate, magnesium, gallium or aluminum compounds
3. Nuclear cracking of water into hydrogen
4. Biomass using pyrolysis or gasification of waste grease and plastics
5. Renewable electrolysis methods including solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower
6. Water splitting using microbes, bacteria and algae methods to create hydrogen including waste from farms, grape juice companies, candy factories, restaurants, beer makers and sewage treatment plants
7. Using X-rays upon ice
8. Using radio waves upon seawater
9. Clean coal to hydrogen ala FutureGen and other research
10. Using corn, switchgrass and other plant life to create hydrogen renewably
11. Tapping into water energy such as tidal energy and wave power
12. Using ships with wind turbines such as those being developed by Windhunters
13. Using high altitude wind energy including tethered rotorcraft and kites
14. Micro hydroelectric water turbines on rivers and mountain streams
15. Cheap electrolysis such as from General Electric’s Noryl catalyst

In the here and now, steam reforming of natural gas is actually the most common method of hydrogen production. The idea behind all of the research previously stated, however is to replace this method of production with more environmentally friendly and less energy intensive methods.

Critics argue that a hydrogen-based economy doesn’t make sense now. But, that’s like people in the 1950’s arguing that there would never be a man on the moon. Given the current technology of course not. Given a few years of research and development, however, the world as we know it now will never be the same.

About Hydro Kevin Kantola

Hydro Kevin Kantola
I'm a hydrogen car blogger, editor and publisher interested in documenting the history and the progression of hydrogen cars, vehicles and infrastructure worldwide.

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8 comments

  1. At the National Hydrogen Association, we witness first-hand the effort to find long-term solutions to produce hydrogen. While progress has been made, what this list illustrates is the flexibility hydrogen offers in terms of production. The long-term goal is to produce hydrogen from renewable resources, using alternative energies like wind and solar to capitalize on hydrogen in its purest form, where water is the by product.

    In the short term, using natural gas and coal with carbon sequestration will reduce carbon emissions, and reduce our dependency on foreign energy imports. The U.S. has the largest estimated recoverable reserves of coal, 273 billion tons, possessing 27 percent of the world’s reserves. When hydrogen is extracted from coal using a gasification process, carbon is naturally released. However, when carbon emissions are sequestered those emissions are brought down to almost none.

    Using natural gas in the short-term presents advantages as well. An estimated 2 percent increase in natural gas production would provide enough hydrogen to fuel 10 million fuel cell vehicles, while reducing carbon emissions about 50 percent. Furthermore, 53 percent of all natural gas is currently used in the U.S in the production of gasoline already. By reducing gasoline production, the natural gas could then be used to produce hydrogen fuel.

    In addition, using nuclear energy to produce hydrogen has great potential. Nuclear energy can produce high quality hydrogen in large quantities at a relatively low cost without any air emissions. Uranium is the main fuel for nuclear reactors, and is readily available. Compared to natural gas or coal, uranium is low in cost, and the cost of nuclear electricity is less sensitive to its price fluctuations. One uranium fuel pellet, about the size of the tip of your little finger, has the equivalent energy potential of 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas, 1,780 pounds of coal, or 149 gallons of oil.

    Even though each method of production is has its own benefits and drawbacks, they all can help to make the transition to a hydrogen economy. The ultimate benefits of moving towards a hydrogen economy are to reduce our energy costs, improve our environmental outlook by reducing carbon emissions, and become more energy independent to improve national security.

    For additional information about hydrogen production, please visit the National Hydrogen Association website at http://www.hydrogenassociation.org, the premier source for information on hydrogen and hydrogen technologies.

  2. The universe is 90% Hydrogen,The ocean is two thirds hydrogen. Thats where the energy is. If we can send a man to the moon, build an atomic weapon,
    we can suceed. A massive Goverment Program is what is needed. Every day we don,t do this costs
    millons of dollars.

  3. If we inject water into a reciprocating engine which is designed to run at 800 C + an explosion will occur (Ask any potter). The trick is to design the components to extract the energy from an explosion. All IC engines show this to a limited degree.
    We looked at using a shock wave introduced into a metre column of water. As the shock wave travels up the tube bubbles are produced. the shock wave reflects from the top of the tube causing the bubbles to collapse. the collapsing bubbles create local temperatures of 5000 deg C. the imploding bubble reaction is extremely violent.

    ~Mal

  4. Why is not having faith in the economic viability of hydrogen like saying there would never be a man on the moon? Every technical advance has to be judged on its own merits. Why make that particular comparison. I’m sure we could find lots of nay-sayers who were correct. In the 50s many people believed that by the 80s or 90s cars would be going 100 miles/hour down the freeways. That didn’t pan out. So can I use that to prove hydrogen won’t pan out? No. And neither can you say it has to work just because going to the moon suceeded.

    By the way, going to the moon, though scientifically a success, was not economically feasable. It was merely and excercies in nation pride.

  5. So the above list show 16 ways to produce hydrogen. So what? What we really need is one cheap way to produce a lot of hydrogen. Look at some of the items on the list, like solar. If we use solar to produce hydrogen, the efficiency is limited by the efficiency of solar. So we are really using solar. The key then would be to make solar more efficient, and what is the hope that will happen.

    We need to reduce the human population. The real problem is too many people chasing too few resouces.

  6. Some of the arguments used here are really silly. We need to up our level of thinking.

    Like saying the universe is mostly hydrogen. So what? What good does that do us here on earth? We don’t live on the sun.

    Besides, the hydrogen in stars is in plasma form, and that is a whole new ball-game.

  7. The largest use of Hydrogen now, is refining oil to create plastics, oils and petrochemicals.

  8. After doing some magnetic and hydrogen conversion research, I broke it down to the simplest thought and was astonished at what differance the slightest bit of magneticly converted hydrogen did to my four clynder’s power and MPGs. Weather is the big factor in this process. Simple energys such as in the air effects this simple process but in all it still looks good at the pumps. Enhancement of fuels and a better controll of burn timing on the power stroke have to be a reason for more power and a more quiet exaust with less emittions. I can see no down-side as yet! If just the moisture in the air can do this when converted we all need to regroup! I drink more water a day than my hydrogen cell has used in the last three months. As a enhancement instead of replacement should be our first step to cleaner air instead of waitting to convert totally!

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