Overview of Hydrogen Energy
Hydrogen is both the most abundant and the lightest element in the universe. While it exists pretty much everywhere- in the air, in space, in the ground- it is rarely alone. This means that it is usually combined with another element, making it necessary to extract and convert it to make it a usable energy source. It is a complex process that takes combined elements and derives hydrogen gas from them, so lets take a closer look at what it is and how it’s made.
Definition of Hydrogen Energy
Hydrogen’s chemistry is very simple- a single atom is made up of only a proton and an electron. In a gaseous form, it can be burned as a fuel. It can be stored in power cells that generate explosive energy and propel rockets and spaceships. It is volatile and combustible, and very, very powerful.
Hydrogen in a pure state can be burned. When the hydrogen gas reacts to fire, it creates a water waste product from the hydrogen gas and the oxygen gas (powering the flame) mixing in the air. This water is pure and drinkable, but very expensive to produce.
One of the major benefits to using hydrogen energy is that it is a relatively clean energy source. It leaves behind no harmful residues and creates to hazardous emissions. This sets it apart from many fossil fuels and nuclear energy sources.
Hydrogen can be stored cryogenically (frozen) or in compressed air containers as a gas. It takes a lot of storage space to house significant amounts of hydrogen. This is because the molecules are far apart, and the gas is lightweight, making it very spread out. To contain the same amount of hydrogen in a cylinder as gasoline, for example, creates a much heavier container.
How Hydrogen Energy is Produced
Hydrogen gas is an expensive and complex fuel to make because it has to be separated from whatever element it is joined to. It often takes a lot of energy to make hydrogen gas, making it a costly power source. There are a number of ways to separate hydrogen from its companion elements.
One way is known as steam reforming. The way steam reforming works is it extracts hydrogen from the air using steam. In a mechanism known as a reformer, steam is created at high temperatures using some form of fossil fuel (perhaps coal, oil, or gasoline). Despite the irony of using one fuel source to create another, this process happens daily all over the world at the behest of governments and environmentally-concerned groups who are searching for a clean energy source.
But continuing the process of steam reforming, the steam- heated and created by the reformer and the fossil fuel- reacts to a metal catalyst. This draws hydrogen and other gases from the air into storage containers of some sort. The hydrogen is now in a usable gas form as ready for consumption as a fuel source.
Another way to get hydrogen separated from its companion elements is through electrolysis. Electrolysis is the earliest known method for hydrogen production. This process takes water, which is composed of hydrogen and oxygen, and separates them via and electrical charge. Again this is a complex process requiring a lot of energy and apparatus.
The electrolysis apparatus consists of a generator or other power source hooked up to two platinum or stainless steel plates. The water is passed over these plates, which are charged by the generator, the force of the charge separates the component elements of the water.
Not just any old charge will do though. Water through its ionization properties, attempts to resist the diffusion of its elements. To overcome this resistance, the water must be supercharged with a very high voltage charge. This takes considerable power and is a very expensive method of producing hydrogen. Because of the cost involved, hydrogen production is generally done by steam reforming, and electrolysis is hardly ever used any more.