Hydrogen Energy



Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, and one of the most energetic. It is also an excellent form of renewable energy. However, hydrogen is not a source of energy, but an energy carrier. Hydrogen can be used to store and deliver energy, but unlike other forms of renewable energy, like wind and solar energy, it takes energy to create free gaseous hydrogen. That is because hydrogen does not exist in its elemental form on Earth, but rather it is always combined with other elements, such as carbon and oxygen.

A good analogy for hydrogen power is electricity. Like hydrogen, electricity is an energy carrier. It takes energy to produce electricity, and then that electricity is sent to our homes, where it can power our appliances. Also like electricity, hydrogen is only as clean as the method used to create it. However, researchers at the United States Department of Energy are committed to finding ways of producing hydrogen that cause no greenhouse gas emissions.

There are several processes for creating free gaseous hydrogen. In the United States, around 95% of hydrogen is produced using the steam-methane reforming process. During this process, high-temperature steam is used to separate pure hydrogen from a methane source, usually natural gas. Although this method is relatively clean compared to coal power, it still creates small amount of carbon dioxide. The high-temperature steam used in this process requires energy to be produced. This energy can come from many different sources, including wind and solar energy, but also coal and other fossil fuels.

However, once the hydrogen has been created, it can then be used to power carbon neutral vehicles called fuel cell vehicles. Fuel cell vehicle are essentially electric cars, but instead of storing electricity in a battery, hydrogen is used as a fuel to produce onboard electricity. This occurs inside the vehicle’s fuel cell, where electrons are stripped from hydrogen molecules, producing electricity. This is accomplished with a device called a Proton Exchange Membrane, which only allows electrons to pass through it. The hydrogen, minus its electrons, then combines with atmospheric oxygen to produce water vapor.

Hydrogen energy, in conjunction with other forms of renewable energy, could one day power our vehicles and homes, producing little or no carbon dioxide in the process. This would end our dependence on fossil fuels, and begin reducing the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. 

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