How Can Hydrogen Be Used in Energy Generation

Hydrogen is the most plentiful gas in the whole universe. It is also the simplest, containing just one proton and one electron per atom. However, despite the abundance of this element, hydrogen never occurs naturally on earth, it is always combined with other elements. For example, water contains both hydrogen and oxygen and hydrocarbons are a combination of hydrogen and carbons in varying quantities. Hydrocarbons are the chief components of natural gas and petroleum.

So, if hydrogen only ever comes attached to other elements, how can we use it to generate energy? Read on to learn all about the role hydrogen plays in modern energy generation.

The Basics of Hydrogen

You already know the composition of a hydrogen atom, now it’s time to delve a little deeper. It is important to understand that hydrogen is not an energy source in and of itself. It is, in fact, an energy carrier. This means that hydrogen stores and transports energy, giving it a unique role in the energy eco-system. But, in order to use hydrogen it must be produced, in the same way electricity needs to be produced. Hydrogen offers a sustainable and completely green way to produce energy.

How is Hydrogen Produced?

There are two main methods for producing hydrogen. The first is through steam reforming, which is when steam reacts with a hydrocarbon and produces hydrogen. This is the most popular technique for producing hydrogen. The second method is electrolysis. This process splits hydrogen from water molecules using an electrical current. The benefit of this technique is that it does not release any toxic emissions.

As with all areas of the energy sector, there is constant development going on with regards to hydrogen production. Scientists are always looking for new, more efficient ways of carrying out the process.

How is Hydrogen Used?

Hydrogen has a wide range of energy uses. Some of the main uses for hydrogen include: refining petroleum, producing fertiliser, processing foods, and treating metals. Liquid hydrogen is also used as rocket fuel for NASA space crafts. Hydrogen fuel cells are used to power the systems on board the rockets – they do this by combining hydrogen and oxygen atoms to produce electricity. This type of cell is twice or even three times more efficient than an internal combustion engine using gasoline.

Research is being undertaken at the moment to explore the possibility of fuel cells being used in domestic vehicle production. Fuel cells give out zero emissions but production of cars using this technology is currently limited as there is very little by way of a refuelling infrastructure. Unfortunately, fuel companies will not invest in these fuelling stations if there are not enough hydrogen fuelled cars to use them. Thus, the vicious cycle continues.

Hydrogen has a lot of potential to help the world achieve its 100% renewable energy target. But, the main issue with it now is its cost. In order to be a viable energy source, the price of hydrogen must be lower than gasoline. However, extensive research into hydrogen production efficiency may see this happen in the near future.