What is Hydrogen Energy?

The universe consists of a mixture of a vast array of components. Each component has a vital role in the composition of the world. The most abundant components in the universe include hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen. Hydrogen is the most occurring component taking up 75% of the universe, and it plays a greater role in the sustainability of life. Apart from helping other different living species to survive, hydrogen can be utilized to generate energy.

Hydrogen exists in almost all plant matter and also occurs naturally in water. Though the sun has a greater percentage of hydrogen gas, the gas is too light that it virtually disappears from the surface of the earth when conveyed by the sun rays. So, to effectively obtain hydrogen gas, it must be harnessed from water, natural gas or biomass.

Hydrogen is the most basic of all Earth elements. The hydrogen atom is made up of a single proton and a single electron. As such, it is very abundant, but it doesn’t really exist as a separate form of matter. Instead it is usually combined with other elements. To separate hydrogen gas from its companion substances takes a lot of work but it produces a powerful, nearly clean source of energy. As a gas, it can be used in fuel cells to power engines.

Hydrogen gas is extracted from water by a technique known as electrolysis, which involves running high electric current through water to separate hydrogen and oxygen atoms. The electrolysis process is pretty expensive since it involves high energy expenditure. The energy used to generate electricity in the electrolysis process is harnessed from fossil fuels like oil, natural gas or coal. It can also be tapped from renewable energy sources like solar, wind and hydropower to ensure no greenhouse gas emissions. Obtaining volumes of oxygen by this method is still under research to establish a viable method of generating it domestically at a relatively low cost.

Another method of hydrogen gas extraction is steam-methane reforming, or steam extraction, which entails the separation of hydrogen atoms in methane from carbon atoms. It is the current technique used to obtain hydrogen gas in vast quantities. The downside to steam-methane reforming is that it emits a lot of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide to the atmosphere, which are recipes for global warming.

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To obtain electricity from the hydrogen gas, it is conveyed to fuel cells where it combines with oxygen, and the result is a chemical reaction that generates electricity and heat. The hydrogen gas can also just be burned to power vehicle engines. The byproducts of this chemical reaction are water and carbon that is used to produce methane and coal.

Advantages of Hydrogen Energy

  1. It’s a renewable energy source and bountiful in supply

Hydrogen is a rich source of energy for many reasons; the main being that it’s bountiful in supply. While it may take a lot of resources to harness it, no other energy source is infinite as hydrogen. That, essentially, means there is no possibility of it running out like other sources of energy.

  1. It practically a clean energy source

When hydrogen is burnt to produce fuel, the byproducts are totally safe, which means, they have no known side effects. Aeronautical companies actually use hydrogen as a source of drinking water. After hydrogen is utilized, it is normally converted to drinking water for astronauts on ship or space stations.

  1. Hydrogen energy is non-toxic

This means that it does not cause any harm or destruction to human health. This aspect makes it preferred compared to other sources of fuel like nuclear energy, natural gas, which are extremely hazardous or daunting to harness safely. It also allows hydrogen to be used in places where other forms of fuel may not be allowed.

  1. It’s far more efficient than other sources of energy

Hydrogen is solidly efficient energy type since it has the ability to convey a lot of energy for every pound of fuel. This categorically means that an automobile that utilizes hydrogen energy will travel more miles than one with an equal amount of gasoline.

  1. Used for powering space ships

Hydrogen energy’s efficiency and power makes it an ideal fuel source for spaceships.  Its power is so high that it’s able to quickly rocket spaceships to exploration missions. It’s also the safest form of energy to perform such an energy-intensive task. Hydrogen energy is in fact 3 times more potent than gasoline and other fossil-based sources of fuel. This ideally means that you need less hydrogen to complete an enormous task.

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It also offers motive power for airplanes, boats, cars, and both portable and stationary fuel cell applications. The downside to using hydrogen in cars is that it’s practically difficult to store in cryogenic or high-pressure tanks.

Disadvantages of Hydrogen Energy

While hydrogen energy has a lot of admirable benefits, it’s not really the outright preferable, clean and cheap energy source for most governments and companies. In gaseous state, it’s quite volatile. While its volatility gives it an edge over energy sources in terms of accomplishing numerous tasks, it equally renders it risky to use and work around.  Some of the disadvantages of hydrogen energy include:

  1. Hydrogen energy is expensive

Electrolysis and steam reforming, the two main processes of hydrogen extraction are extremely expensive. This is the real reason it’s not heavily used across the world. Today, hydrogen energy is chiefly used to power most hybrid vehicles. A lot of research and innovation is required to discover cheap and sustainable ways to harness this form of energy. Until then, hydrogen energy would remain exclusively for the rich.

  1. Storage complications

One of hydrogen properties is that it has a lower density. In fact, it is a lot less denser than gasoline. This means that it has to be compressed to liquid state and stored the same way at lower temperatures to guarantee its effectiveness and efficiency as an energy source. This reason also explains why hydrogen must at all times be stored and transported under high pressure, which is why transportation and common use is far from feasible.

  1. It’s not the safest source of energy

The power of hydrogen should not be underestimated at all. Although gasoline is a little more dangerous than hydrogen, hydrogen is hugely flammable and frequently makes headlines for its potential dangers. Compared to gas, hydrogen lacks smell, which makes any leak detection almost impossible. To detect leaks, one must install sensors.

  1. Tricky to move around

It’s a daunting task to transport hydrogen brilliantly due to its lightness. Oil can be transported safely because it’s mostly pushed through pipes. Coal can conveniently be transported in dump trucks. Hydrogen also presents challenges when considering moving it in large quantities, which is why it’s mostly only transported in small batches.

  1. Hydrogen energy cannot sustain the population

Despite the fact that hydrogen is bountiful in supply, the cost of harnessing it limits extensive utilization. As you realize, it’s quite challenging to disrupt the status quo. Energy from fossil fuels still rule the world. There is also no framework put in place to ensure cheap and sustainable hydrogen energy for the normal car owner in the future. Even if hydrogen were to become cheap right now, it would take years to become the most used source of energy since vehicles themselves and service stations would need to be customized to conform to hydrogen requirements. This would require massive capital outlay.

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It’s a fact that hydrogen energy is a renewable resource because it’s abundantly available and its impacts hugely neglected. However, hydrogen companies will, in real sense, need other forms of non-renewable energy such as fossil (coal, natural gas, and oil) to separate it from oxygen. We may be able to minimize over-reliance on fossils fuels when we embrace hydrogen energy, but it will be daunting to get rid of it from the system.

References: U.S. DoE , U.S. EPA
Image credit: zero_org
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