Hydrogen is the simplest element that is made of one proton and one electron. Hydrogen as a gas (H2), however, doesn’t exist naturally on Earth but only found in compound forms. Combined with oxygen, it is water (H2O). Combined with carbon, it forms organic compounds such as methane (CH4), coal, and petroleum. It is found in all growing things—biomass.

Hydrogen is one of the most promising energy carriers for the future. It is highly energy-efficient with low polluting potential that can be used for transportation, heating, and power generation as a secondary energy source.

Use of hydrogen

Since hydrogen gas is not found on Earth, it is often manufactured via two ways:

  • Steam reforming – it is commonly used in industry that produces the hydrogen by separating it from the carbon atoms in methane (CH4) at high-temperature steam;
  • Electrolysis - it involves passing an electric current through water to separate the atoms (2H2O + electricity → 2H2 + O2). High-purity hydrogen is collected at the cathode and oxygen at the anode, whereas electricity from renewable sources can power the process. Since water is abundant and renewable, and technological advances in renewable electricity could make electrolysis a more attractive way to produce hydrogen in the future.

Hydrogen is already in use as a fuel in the space or rocket program since the 1970s. In the future, hydrogen will join electricity as an important energy carrier and as a fuel for ‘zero-emissions’ vehicles, providing heat to homes and offices, to produce electricity, and to fuel aircraft. The first widespread use of hydrogen will probably be as an additive to transportation fuels. Combining with gasoline, ethanol, methanol or natural gas, it is possible to increase vehicle’s performance with lower pollution.

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