Posted by: jdavis | March 13, 2008

HYDROGEN FUEL – An Alternative Energy Source

Hydrogen is better known as the other half of Oxygen (O2) in H2O or water. It is an energy carrier and thus takes a lot of energy to extract from water. Useful for fuel cells and batteries as a compact energy source, companies are still finding ways to exploit its potential.

It is said that hydrogen fuel cells can be the best pollution-free alternative. Batteries are being used for electric cars nowadays but hydrogen fuel cells have less restraint. According to Jeffrey Zygmont in his article Fuel Cell Fever: Power Source for a Future Generation of Cars, Hydrogen powered “fuel cells hold enormous promise as a power source for a future generation of cars“. This was an article in 1997, and that was 10 years ago. This issue though is not passé; in fact the global warming issue has never been more popular especially after the movie and book of Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth.

While reading more on hydrogen-fuel, I stumbled upon a blog regarding hydrogen cars and it was so informative that I decided to research more on this. I certainly believe that it is important for everyone to recognize the truth that we have an environmental situation that needs to be taken care of. There is so much to talk about but so little space and time. So for now, let us ask why the hydrogen fuel is touted to be the alternative energy source.

Our vehicles contribute to the existing environmental problem because of the exhaust that comes out. Because the internal combustion engine has not been perfected, some toxic gases like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, and carbon dioxide are released together with the benign by-products. These toxic gases contribute to “urban smog, rural air pollution, acid rain, and the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere”.

Unfortunately, we need our cars. In my earlier posts, I have suggested car sharing as one option. But for those who feel the need to have their own vehicle, what are their options?

  • Cars run on alternative carbon-based fuels, like propane or natural gas because it is said to be cleaner than gasoline or diesel. The problem is because they are still fossil fuels then they are still limited and can the greenhouse gas they contribute are almost the same as oil-based.
  • Electric motors on the other hand run on batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and solar power. And they are completely emission free. But each one has limitations:
    • Battery-powered cars are limited by the batteries which are heavy and occupy a lot of space, and they cannot drive for long because they would need to be recharged.
    • Solar-powered cars are limited by the fact that sun is only up during the day and during the night they have to use batteries, which limits them to the same drawbacks I enumerated earlier.
    • The best pollution-free alternative to batteries while still using clean electric motors is the hydrogen fuel cell. It does not have the drawbacks of the batteries I mentioned earlier.

A pollution-free chemical reaction in a fuel cell spends the Hydrogen and not combustion. What the fuel cell does is simply to combine hydrogen and oxygen chemically to produce electricity, water, and waste heat. And because it constitutes about 93% of all atoms then it is abundant, probably the most abundant element in the universe. According to NHA, “Hydrogen has often been called the perfect fuel. Its major reserve on earth (water) is inexhaustible. The use of hydrogen is compatible with nature, rather than intrusive. We will never run out of hydrogen”.

Because hydrogen is fuel, some people wonder about its safety. Like any fuel, its combustion properties should be handled then same way that any fuel is, with care. According to one expert, “The hazards of hydrogen are different from but not greater than those of conventional fuels”. In case there is an accident and leaks or spills occur, hydrogen easily dissipates and vaporizes faster than the gasoline so explosion hazard is minimized or contained. But just to make sure, hydrogen tanks are put under a series of demanding safety tests and the worst that came out was a leak and burns, never explosion.



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