Hydrogen is Generated by Using Another Energy Source
Advocates promote hydrogen as the best fuel for cars in the future. Hydrogen is not a fuel that occurs naturally but a fuel that must be generated using another energy source. Thus, hydrogen is categorized as an energy carrier rather than a fuel.
Development of hydrogen power depends on other factors such as climate change, the use of fossil fuels and generation of sustainable energy.
Energy is derived from a simple element as one atom of hydrogen has only one proton. Hydrogen is the most plentiful gas in the universe and is the main component that makes up stars and the sun.
Hydrogen atoms combine in the sun's core to form helium atoms in a process known as fusion. The burning orb of hydrogen and helium gases is what we call the sun and the fusion process is responsible for radiant energy we call solar energy.
Hydrogen gas is lighter than air so it is quickly released from the earth's atmosphere and that's why hydrogen power must be created rather than collected. We do find hydrogen combined with other elements on earth.
If you combine hydrogen and oxygen, you get water. Hydrogen also is combined with methane gas, oil and coal. In its combinations, hydrogen is plentiful and especially found in all growing plants. Hydrogen has high energy content by weight but low energy content by volume.
Hydrogen is not widely used today for energy but there are many groups and proponents that believe hydrogen is an important fuel for the future. Perhaps the best way to describe the term energy carrier is electricity is an energy carrier. Electricity is produced from another substance and is carried to where the power is used. Hydrogen works much the same way as a carrier.
We can get hydrogen gas by separating hydrogen atoms from other elements. We can remove hydrogen from water, natural gas or biomass (plants). There are two common methods used to produce hydrogen: steam reforming and electrolysis.
Steam reforming is the most common method used today. About 95% of the hydrogen gas produced in the U.S. is captured through this method. The problem with steam reforming is that it releases greenhouse gases in the process. These are the emissions closely linked to climate change.
Electrolysis is a process that separates hydrogen from water. There are no emissions involved and greenhouse gases are not an issue. However, the process is very expensive. Current research is focused on developing new technologies to provide a more cost effective method of electrolysis.
Areas of Using
In the U.S., approximately 9 metric tons of hydrogen are produced each year. This is a quantity that could power 25 million cars or provide energy to 6-8 million homes. California, Louisiana and Texas are the main locations for hydrogen gas production.
The energy generated from hydrogen produced today is used for processing foods, treating metals and for other industrial processes. N.A.S.A. uses a lot of hydrogen power in the space program.
Liquid hydrogen is the fuel that sends shuttles into orbit and hydrogen batteries power the electrical systems. A by product of the hydrogen used in the space program is water which becomes the drinking water for the shuttle crew.
Hydrogen batteries are referred to as fuel cells. One small fuel cell can power an electric car and a large fuel cell can provide electricity in remote locations where power lines are not available.
The main drawback to using fuel cells is the high cost. In some places, those costly fuel cells are now in use as backup power for critical installations such as hospitals. Very small portable fuel cells are now sold on the market to power laptops, cell phones and for multiple military uses.
The cost of fuel cells does not financially permit the building of large hydrogen plants at this time.
The hydrogen is not burned as fuel in most of them but instead there are converters that turn the hydrogen into electricity. Cars using hydrogen power directly would produce almost zero emissions but the current technology for direct use is too expensive to be practical.
Though hydrogen vehicles are beginning to be put into use, the initial cost of the cars and buses is quite high. Most of the vehicles powered by hydrogen in the U.S. are in the hands of state and federal agencies as only a few private citizens are willing to pay the price.
The biggest problem to address when increasing the number of cars powered by hydrogen is cost. However, there is a second problem as well. Refueling is a challenge as there are less than 100 refueling stations in the entire country.
There is no point in building hydrogen refueling stations as a network across the country if there are no hydrogen cars on the road. Selling hydrogen cars may not feasible without a refueling network.
As new technologies are developed to bring down the costs of using hydrogen in ways that do not create greenhouse gas emissions, this is a technology the public is likely to embrace.
Today hydrogen is used to produce agricultural products such as fertilizer and in other industrial applications. It's used in small fuel cells for military equipment and for computer laptops and cell phones.
The questions about growth of hydrogen power focus on the energy needed to produce the hydrogen gas and on the potential for greenhouse gases of current processes.
It's possible that in the future renewable energy sources such as wind and solar will be the source of energy used to power plants that produce hydrogen power and manufacture fuel cells.
In turn, those same fuel cells could provide the power needed to bolster solar and wind energy during hours when the sun isn't shining or winds are still.