Hydrogen Good For More Than Cars?

Hydrogen as the fuel for our cars hasn’t quite been the magic pill it was toted as being when first introduced. That doesn’t mean that it is not still a viable and essential area that needs to be researched as a renewable energy source. There is a vision for a new hydrogen economy which “will mean a world where our pollution problems are solved and where our need for abundant and affordable energy is secure… and where concerns about dwindling resources are a thing of the past.”– Spencer Abraham, Hydrogen Energy Roadmap, November 2003.

As one of the most abundant elements in the world and even universe using hydrogen to power our way of life has great appeal. Here on Earth it is not alone but we can harvest it from a variety or resources, such as water, biomass, natural gas, oil and even coal. This means that the resources we need can be found wherever we need to produce hydrogen. Right now most, 95%, of the hydrogen used today comes from reforming natural gas. The 5% remaining is high-purity hydrogen produced from water electrolysis, which is done primarily by fossil fuel generated electricity. Though the ideal solution is to do this sustainable through a cycle that produces the hydrogen clean, efficiently, and most important in today’s economy affordably. If this can be accomplished then it can increase our energy security, reduce of greenhouse emissions, and help make the world a better place while giving us the energy we demand.

To have a sustainable production cycle for the production of hydrogen and its use is the ultimate goal. The ideal cycle would start with hydrogen would be harvested using renewable resources; an example would be the photoelectrolysis of water, where solar energy would be used to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen. Then this hydrogen is used to power a fuel cell where the hydrogen is reconnected with the oxygen to produce electricity, water and heat. In this cycle there in no pollution or greenhouse gases produced.

Renewable resources are abundant in the United States for the production of hydrogen. Since it can be made using solar, wind, biomass, etc the resource are enough to take care of the needs of the entire country. Since wide distribution of renewable resources is possible we can use a decentralized production for the hydrogen. One possibility is that in Iowa hydrogen can be a byproduct of corn ethanol production. Another is that in Massachusetts the off shore wind farms could produce the electricity needed to harvest the hydrogen. With decentralized production of hydrogen storage and delivery can be greatly reduced and in some cases eliminated.

At this time wind seems to be at the forefront for hydrogen production. As with a utility size operation the cost typically ranges from 3–7¢/kWh. Production of hydrogen is not where we need technology breakthroughs, storage and transporting is. Today’s methods for storing hydrogen under high pressure as a compressed gas, or as a liquid at cryogenic temperatures cannot meet the needs for this renewable energy to be realistic at this time. Some of the research being done to store or to make transporting by rail or road has merit to make this a viable option in the future, and if we’re lucky enough in the near future.

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