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Hydrogen fuel is a zero-emission fuel which uses electrochemical cells, or combustion in internal engines, to power vehicles and electric devices. It is also used in the propulsion of spacecraft and can potentially be mass-produced and commercialized for passenger vehicles and aircraft.
Hydrogen lies in the first group and first period in the periodic table, i.e. it is the first element on the periodic table, making it the lightest element in the universe. Hydrogen is neither a metal nor a non metal but still is considered as non metal. It acts as a metal when compressed to high densities.
Since hydrogen gas is so light, it rises in the atmosphere and is therefore rarely found in its pure form, H2. In a flame of pure hydrogen gas, burning in air, the hydrogen (H2) reacts with oxygen (O2) to form water (H2O) and releases heat.
- 2H2(g) + O2(g) → 2H2O(g)
If carried out in atmospheric air instead of pure oxygen (as is usually the case), hydrogen combustion may yield small amounts of nitrogen oxides, along with the water vapor.
Combustion heat enables hydrogen to act as a fuel. Nevertheless, hydrogen is an energy carrier, like electricity, not an energy resource. Energy firms must first produce the hydrogen gas, and that production induces environmental impacts. Hydrogen production always requires more energy than can be retrieved from the gas as a fuel later on. This is a limitation of the physical law of the conservation of energy.
Because pure hydrogen does not occur naturally, it takes a substantial amount of energy in its industrial production. There are different ways to produce it, such as electrolysis and steam-methane reforming process. In electrolysis, electricity is run through water to separate the hydrogen and oxygen atoms. This method can use wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, fossil fuels, biomass, and many other resources. Obtaining hydrogen from this process is being studied as a viable way to produce it domestically at a low cost. Steam-methane reforming, the current leading technology for producing hydrogen in large quantities, extracts the hydrogen from methane. However, this reaction causes a side production of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, which are greenhouse gases and contribute to global warming.
Once manufactured, hydrogen is an energy carrier (i.e. a store for energy first generated by other means). The energy can be delivered to fuel cells and generate electricity and heat, or burned to run a combustion engine. In each case hydrogen is combined with oxygen to form water. The heat in a hydrogen flame is a radiant emission from the newly formed water molecules. The water molecules are in an excited state on initial formation and then transition to a ground state; the transition unleashing thermal radiation. When burning in air, the temperature is roughly 2000°C. Historically, carbon has literally been the carrier of hydrogen as more hydrogen is packed in fossil fuels than pure liquid hydrogen of the same amount. The carbon atoms have classic storage capabilities and also adds more energy output when burned with hydrogen. However, burning carbon base fuel and releasing its exhaust has produced too much global warming due to the greenhouse effect of carbon gases. Pure hydrogen is the smallest element and some of it will inevitably escape from any known container or pipe in micro amounts, yet simple ventilation could prevent such leakage from ever reaching the volatile 4% hydrogen-air mixture. So long as the product is in a gaseous or liquid state, pipes are a classic and very efficient form of transportation. Pure hydrogen, though, causes metal to become more brittle, thus metal pipes might require a little more maintenance in the long run.
Potentially, there is plenty of wind power to supply all of the world's electrical demand. Once the construction cost of a windmill is paid off, very little maintenance cost is required and the energy is practically free. Although electricity can be delivered over long distances, large amounts of electricity cannot be stored and must be generated as they are needed; this requires complex distribution networks and management processes. This is where hydrogen can act as a good carrier. With electrolysis, electricity can affect the extraction of hydrogen and oxygen from water with a little loss of energy in process. Then the hydrogen can be conveyed over long distances by means of the appropriate pipework and reconverted into electricity afterwards. A greater quantity of hydrogen can be delivered while bonded to carbon in fossil fuel form, whereby micro-leakage and metal embrittlement will be avoided.
With regard to safety from unwanted explosions, hydrogen fuel in automotive vehicles is at least as safe as gasoline.
One group that claims to "nurture nature" is in the process of developing small power plants fueled by hydrogen and pure oxygen. They call their project "The Rainbow Solution" [to future energy needs]. They address the safety of hydrogen fuel by using small, stationary plants, burning the hydrogen immediately after production, and using several small sources.
- Hydrogen safety
- Hydrogen storage
- Hydrogen compressor
- Oxyhydrogen flame
- Hydrogen technologies
- Hydrogen vehicle
- Fuel cell vehicle
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- "The Search for Solutions by Horace Freeland Judson, p.34 (1980)
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- McCarthy, John. "Hydrogen".
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- Milbrandt, A. "Hydrogen Production from Key Renewable Resources in the United States" (pdf). U.S. Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Retrieved September 13, 2013.
- Hydrogen as the fuel of the future, report by the DLR
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