Hydrogen: The Energy Source Of The Future Essay, Research Paper
Hydrogen: The Energy Source of the Future
There have been many stories in the newspapers, on TV and on the radio about the state that our planet is in, and most of the time they are not too positive. We hear about pollution, and global warming most frequently, which are both caused mainly by the burning of fossil fuels. Because of this, organizations and governments have started to invest money in researching alternate forms of energy that are less polluting and that do not contribute to global warming. One of the main sources of energy being looked into is hydrogen, which is used in fuel cells to produce electrical energy. Very little pollution is formed by hydrogen and absolutely no greenhouse gases are formed. In this paper both pros and cons of using hydrogen as an energy source will be discussed, as well as what kind of research is being done, how hydrogen is already being used as an energy source, and if there are any safety concerns.
In the past few years many problems concerning our energy resources and our environment have arisen and need to dealt with. Our planet’s temperature has increased by approximately one degree in the past century and many scientists believe this change is accelerating at a dizzying rate. As well the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted that the global temperature would increase somewhere in between 1.8 and 6.3 degrees by the year 2100. (Esselstyn 1) This may not seem like much because the difference between a day where the temperature is 24 ° and another day where the temperature is 29 ° does not seem to be too significant to the average human body. However the planet earth is like a giant balancing act, and this slight change in temperature can throw our planet way out of balance. If this change were to occur there would be dire consequences, like a rising sea level, which would cause coastlines to disappear, a spread of tropical diseases, crop disasters, and an increase in the number of hurricanes and droughts. All these problems are caused by the burning of fossil fuels, which produce greenhouse gases like CO2, NOx and SOx.
This causes quite the dilemma. How can we replace our main form of energy which is not only killing our planet, but is also diminishing because fossil fuels are finite resources and our needs and demands are infinite? Either our planet will become too polluted to be inhabited or we will run out of fossil fuels and will need a new source of energy.
This is why certain organizations and governments are looking into alternative energy sources like hydrogen, earth’s most abundant element, (Esselstyn 1) which can be isolated from water, natural gas, methanol, organic wastes, and petrochemical spills. (Esselstyn 4)
Hydrogen, oxygen, water and electricity have a remarkable relationship, which, when used in an effective manner can produce infinite amounts of energy, with very few negative consequences. (Esselstyn 3) We get energy from hydrogen by using fuel cells, which are voltaic cells in which a fuel substance undergoes oxidation and from which electrical energy is obtained continuously. Fuel cells have a maze of membranes which allow oxygen and hydrogen to combine. This combination of elements is an electrochemical process, which produces electricity, as well as water vapor and an insignificant amount of heat. (Wilbraham 346) Henceforth a remarkable loop is formed, hydrogen can make electricity and electricity can make hydrogen, giving us an infinite source of consequence free energy. (Esselstyn 1)
The first person to really start working with hydrogen was Sir William Grove and is often referred to as the “father of the fuel cell”. His work with hydrogen started in about 1839, but it wasn’t until early in the 20th century that people actually tried to use hydrogen as an energy source by attempting to create fuel cells. The failure of these attempts is mostly due to the lack of understanding of electrode kinetics and the materials they were using. While the fuel cell was not having much luck at this time, the first internal combustion engine was developed, thus stopping any more attempts at harnessing hydrogen’s energy potential. It wasn’t until 1959 that a group of scientists, led by Francis Bacon, formulated the first practical fuel cell that was capable of powering a welding machine. (Esselstyn 1) However, NASA was the first to make fuel cells known, in the 1950’s, when they started to use them in their space missions and continue to use them to this day. (Esselstyn 1)
NASA has been using fuel cells aboard space shuttles for decades now, without any problems. Because of NASA’s success with hydrogen the Daimler-Benz car company has created a bus called the NEBUS which runs solely on the use of fuel cells, producing enough electrical energy to power the bus for two hundred and fifty kilometers at a time. This rather unique bus runs quite successfully in three major cities in North America. The prosperity of the NEBUS has also sparked the interest of Ford, GM, Toyota, Honda, and Chrysler, who are now all working on their own versions of environmentally safe cars. (Esselstyn 3)
Many people believe hydrogen is not a safe way to produce energy because of its volatility, and the Hindenburg disaster is used as evidence to back up this belief. However, in April, 1997 a scientist by the name of Addison Bains uncovered evidence, that was in the Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Letter, which suggested that the accident was more likely caused by the Zeppelin’s highly flammable exterior being set on fire by the static-electric discharges in the air. The hydrogen did eventually combust, but the blame cannot be put solely on hydrogen. (DiChristina 4)
Fifty thousand pounds of hydrogen are used daily to produce metal, process food, manufacture computer chips and refine petroleum, proving that hydrogen can be stored and handled in a safe manner. Also, since NASA uses hydrogen quite frequently it must be transported somehow, and for years they have been trucking it along North American highways with no accidents to date. (Esselstyn 3) This proves that hydrogen is just as safe, if not safer to transport than petroleum products which can cause oil spills.
In fact the only foreseen draw back of fuel cells is that, the hydrogen must be very pure, making it hard to use hydrogen extracted from natural gas due to the possibility of contamination. (Esselstyn 2)
As well as environmental advantages, hydrogen being used as an energy source has a few economical advantages as well. A hydrogen-based economy would create many new and permanent jobs in the scientific and industrial fields. New plants would have to be built, parts would have to be manufactured for the running of the plants and the development of technologies would be required. Also, oil would not have to be bought from the Middle East, which in turn would reduce government spending on imports, and governments could also stop spending money on oil exploration, which would no doubt help our country’s deficit. (Esselstyn 1)
It is because of the economic, environmental and moral advantages that the National Hydrogen Association (NHA), a non-profit organization made up of industrial companies, small businesses, universities, research institutions and individual citizens, who are all interested in developing hydrogen technologies and uses, (Esselstyn 6), has derived a “hydrogen commercialization plan”. (Esselstyn 1) They felt that the key to this plan is the partnership of the government and industries who have their own strengths and weaknesses and must work together to accentuate the strengths and eliminate the weaknesses. An example of this is how industries have the expertise to bring new products to the marketplace, whereas, the government has the financial resources to fund such advancements, as well as protect them with new laws. (Esselstyn 1)
The details of this elaborate plan are quite complex, however its basis and main goals are simple. The NHA plans on introducing hydrogen into society as a new energy source, and eventually have it become the main source of energy. (Esselstyn 1) The first step to achieving this is to get the industries and the government to commit to this project, because without them this plan is just scribbles on paper. To do this the NHA must convince industries that they will eventually make a profit from hydrogen technologies. As for the government, they must be convinced that their investments will ensure a cleaner, safer environment, as well as reduce health costs and decrease oil imports. (Esselstyn 2) The ultimate goal of this plan is to clean up our tarnished planet for future generations to enjoy, and if everything outlined in the hydrogen commercialization plan unravels accordingly, this goal is not far off.
As shown in this paper there are very valid reasons to find and use an alternate source of energy and from what I now know, hydrogen seems to be that alternative. As it has been outlined in previous pages, hydrogen is clean, safe, abundant, effective and has very few drawbacks. I am also now convinced, after researching this subject, that something is being done and I hope and believe that hydrogen will become the fuel of the future, not only for my sake, but for my future children’s sake and for our entire planet’s sake.
I) Esselstyn, Erik. “Cross Creek Initiative Overview” 7pp. Available from http://www.ttcorp.com; internet.
II) Hydrogen and its Compounds. Encyclopedia Britannica. Volume 9. (1974). Chicago: Helen Hemingway Benton.
III) Wilbraham, Antony C. (Ed.) Chemistry. Don Mills, Ontario: Addison-Wesley Publishers Ltd., 1993.
IV) DiChristina, Mariette. “What Really Downed the Hindenburg.” Popular Mechanics. Nov. 1997: 70-76.
V) Donal, O’Leary. “Hydrogen” available from http://www.ucc.ie/ucc/depts/chem/dolchem/html/elem/elem001.html; internet.