Hydrogen is a gas with the most abundant supply in the entire universe. The sun is made up mostly of hydrogen and helium gases while the stars are primarily made of hydrogen.
Hydrogen is the simplest element with every atom composed only of one proton. In the middle of the sun, hydrogen atoms come together to form helium atoms. This process is known as fusion and is responsible for releasing the suns radiant energy.
This gas is even lighter than air the reason why it is always in the atmosphere and cannot be found as a single element on earth. It combines with other elements to form a compound and so, hydrogen mixed with oxygen makes water (H2O) while hydrogen mixed with carbon results in a variety of compounds including coal, methane and petroleum.
While it is a light gas, hydrogen actually contains the highest energy in terms of weight even three times more than gasoline but has the lowest energy content in terms of volume or four times less than gasoline.
How hydrogen energy is formed
Hydrogen needs to be split from other elements in order for it to be used on earth. Hydrogen atoms can be separated from water, biomass or molecules of natural gas.
Steam reforming and electrolysis or the splitting of water are two popular ways to produce hydrogen. Steam reforming is less costly and in fact, is responsible for an estimated 95 percent of the total hydrogen produced in the U.S. alone. This process is commonly utilized in industries to split the hydrogen and carbon atoms found in methane. A drawback, however, is the emission of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
Electrolysis, on the other hand, is a more expensive process but causes no emissions. It involves the separation of hydrogen from water.
Hydrogen is mainly used today as an energy fuel. The United States alone produces approximately 7.8 million metric tons of this gas. The National Aeronautics and Space Administrations (NASA) space program has long used hydrogen as an energy fuel.
A space shuttle normally uses hydrogen batteries, also known as fuel cells, to power its electrical systems. Liquid hydrogen fuel, on the one hand, is instrumental in lifting the space shuttle into orbit.
Hydrogen batteries or fuel cells are capable of producing electricity although its quite costly to build them. Large fuel cells have the capacity to generate electricity in areas where no power lines exist while smaller fuel cells can power electric cars.
Fuel cells also provide emergency power to hospitals and other remote locations. There are the portable types as well that provide power to cellular phones and laptop computers.
In transportation, many cars and buses in the U.S. are now being powered by electric motors that use hydrogen gas or liquid. Some 25 hydrogen refueling stations are also in existence today across the country. The widespread use of this gas in vehicles, however, may still take quite some time.
When fully developed, hydrogen has a big potential as an alternative
energy source because it is environment-friendly. More facilities and systems just need to be constructed to make this gas widely available to consumers in the future.
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