Monday, June 25, 2007

Hydrogen as fuel for our vehicles

hydrogen powered hummer

The following information on hydrogen is from the US Department of Energy.

Hydrogen is the simplest element known to man. Each atom of hydrogen has only one proton. It is also the most plentiful gas in the universe. Stars are made primarily of hydrogen.

Since hydrogen doesn't exist on earth as a gas, we must separate it from other elements. We can separate hydrogen atoms from water, biomass, or natural gas molecules. The two most common methods for producing hydrogen are steam reforming and electrolysis (water splitting). Scientists have even discovered that some algae and bacteria give off hydrogen.


There are currently about 200 hydrogen-fueled vehicles in the United States – mostly in California. Most of these vehicles are buses and automobiles powered by electric motors. They store hydrogen gas or liquid on board and convert the hydrogen into electricity for the motor using a fuel cell. Only a few of these vehicles burn the hydrogen directly (producing almost no pollution).

Hydrogen vehicles are starting to move from the laboratory to the road. One California family has recently leased a hydrogen car for personal use. The U.S. postal service, a package delivery company, a few Florida Park rangers, and a few private utility companies are also using hydrogen vehicles. It will probably be at least 10 years, though, before you can walk into your local car dealer and drive away in an affordable hydrogen-powered car.

Even then, you will need a place to refuel your hydrogen car. Currently, there are about 25 hydrogen refueling stations nationwide. This is the so-called “chicken and egg” problem that hydrogen developers are working hard to solve. Namely: who will buy hydrogen cars if there are no refueling stations? And who will pay to build a refueling station if there are no cars and customers?

One possible solution is to eliminate refueling stations entirely. Automobile manufacturers have already designed a refrigerator-sized hydrogen generator for your garage that works off electricity. Consumers would simply refill their cars with hydrogen each night while it is parked.


Hydrogen has great potential as an environmentally clean energy fuel and as a way to reduce reliance on imported energy sources. Before hydrogen can play a bigger energy role and become a widely used alternative to gasoline, many new facilities and systems must be built. We will need facilities to make hydrogen, store it, and move it. We will need economical fuel cells. And consumers will need the technology and the education to safely use it.

The goal of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Hydrogen Program is for hydrogen to produce ten percent of our energy by the year 2030. Hydrogen could provide clean, renewable energy for the future.


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