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Hydrogen As A Fuel

Science Assessment 2013

Adam Sinclair

on 4 July 2013

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Transcript of Hydrogen As A Fuel

What are the advantages of hydrogen produced energy?
It's Readily Available
Hydrogen is a great source of energy as it is readily available. It is the most abundant element in the see-able universe and can also be found in plenty on Earth. Water, which covers approximately 71% of the earth, is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom (H2O). This means if separated from the oxygen atom, pure hydrogen gas is released which can, through fuels cells, be used to power vehicles.
There Are No Harmful Emissions
Hydrogen gas (H2) when introduced to Oxygen (02) reacts violently, releasing energy in the form of heat (2H2 + O2 -> H20). The byproduct is water (H20) which is naturally found on Earth and is in no way harmful. This means we can gain the energy we need without any unwanted consequences.
Environmentally Friendly
Not only is Hydrogen a good source of fuel because it produces no harmful substances, if anything goes wrong there is no chance of anyone being hurt through toxic waste which comes with Nuclear Power. In the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan, three reactors were damaged in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex. This leaked toxic waste into the surrounding farmland area poisoning crops. This was very dangerous for citizens in the local area. With Hydrogen Energy, there is no chance of these harmful leaks.
Fuel Efficient
One World Assessment:

Hydrogen as a Fuel
There is one thing that humans have always wanted...
The ability to have the energy that we so desperately rely on without the negative consequences.
With Hydrogen, could this be possible?
If it is possible, should we make the move to become a Hydrogen based world?
Is it better than our current fossil fuels?
A Hydrogen Fueling Station
A BMW hydrogen powered race car
Social Effects
Large amounts of CO2 produced by factories.
When Hydrogen reacts with oxygen, it is a violent reaction where lots of energy is released. It is more reactive than fossil fuels releasing more energy than fossil fuels do. Hydrogen is in fact so powerful that it is the fuel of our sun. Our sun (which is made up of 3/4 of Hydrogen) turns hydrogen in to helium through nuclear fusion which emits light. To release so much light, it has to be powerful!
Renewable Energy
Water covers a large amount of our planet. We can take hydrogen gas, (which has been extracted from water) turn it back into water and utilize the energy that is released during the chemical reaction. This means that we cannot run out of Hydrogen as it can continue to be recycled (from water to water). This solves a lot of our current day problems with fossil fuels.
So it sounds great...
But are there disadvantages?
Extract Hydrogen (H2)
Add Oxygen (02)
Releases Energy
Requires Energy
The disadvantages of Hydrogen
Highly Flammable
Replacing Existing Infrastructure
Dependency On Fossil Fuels
Hydrogen is expensive and time consuming to produce with current day technology. As there are no efficient and effective ways of producing it, it will cost more causing people to remain using fossil fuels.
So it's possible
But how is it produced?
The production of Hydrogen can be done in many different ways.
The most popular ways are steam reforming and electrolysis.
Other ways include:
o Thermolysis
o Algae Bioreaction
o Nuclear
o Fossil Fuels
o Hydrogen Generators
o Chemicals and catalysts
Hydrogen Production
Lets look into one in a bit more depth...
Steam Reforming:
Steam reforming is the most common method of creating Hydrogen as it is the most cost efficient. The United states produces nine million tons of Hydrogen per year. The majority of this is produced using steam reformers.
But how does work?
Steam reformers works by taking liquid methanol and water, vaporizing them, then funneling them through a tunnel where they meet a catalyst. The methanol is separated into carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The reason water is in the equation is that it not only separates in to hydrogen, it provides an oxygen atom which turns the toxic carbon monoxide into the less harmful carbon dioxide. This is a very undesirable method as it releases carbon dioxide, a green house gas, into the atmosphere which contributes to global warming.
The symbol for hydrogen gas
A steam reforming plant
Fuel Cells
What are they?
Lets take a closer look....
Fuel cells are a device that uses chemical reactions to create an electric current.
Fuel cells have already made hydrogen cars possible, but the catalysts, usually made of platinum, are expensive.
How do fuel cells work?
Fuel cells
Firstly there is an anode. This is where the hydrogen gas is.
How Fuel cells work is fairly easy to understand.
The hydrogen gas wants to form water by joining with oxygen gas that is kept in the cathode.
For the hydrogen to reach the oxygen, First it must split into its protons and electrons (2 of each) through the help of the catalyst.
The protons are able to move across the electrolyte to the oxygen but the electrons have to travel around a wire to reconnect with its protons and then subsequently with the oxygen gas.
Firstly there is an anode. This is where the hydrogen gas is.
Electricity is the movement of charged particles. Therefore, the movement of the electrons to reach the oxygen gas creates electricity which can be used to power cars, buses, houses or whatever requires electricity.
A Hydrogen Fuel Cell
So cars and planes could be powered by hydrogen.
But is this necessarily a good thing?
Lets see
Environmental Disadvantages Of Hydrogen Fuel Cells
Hydrogen is a highly flammable and dangerous gas. It burns ferociously as flames provide oxygen. We know Hydrogen can be dangerous as it is used in thermonuclear weapondry. Having a very unsafe fuel, more so then fossil fuels, is something to take into consideration
Steam reforming and electrolysis are two main ways of producing hydrogen. They also both either require or release fossil fuels. This means that though the hydrogen may have zero emissions, its seperation does not.
Another reason why hydrogen could be a bad idea is that all the exsiting infrastructure would have to be adapted or completely rebuilt. Cars, buses, refueling stations and even factories would have to be rebuilt to rely on hydrogen as apose to fossil fuels. This would cost an enormous amount of money and would also probably use fossil fuels in the adaption. A double hit to the environment and the economy.
Hydrogen, because it is super light, is incredibly hard to transport requiring one of a few complex methods of storage including expensive reinforced containers or chryogenic storage. This makes it expensive to move even small amounts of Hydrogen.
Environmental Advantages Of Hydrogen Fuel Cells
On the other hand, there are some issues that need to be considered. Researchers from the California Institute of Technology and the National Center for Atmospheric Research have done studies into hydrogen fuel cells and have discovered a crucial fact. To have hydrogen as our main fuel, some hydrogen gas will escape into the atmosphere (a predicted 10-20%). This is approximately 2-3 times the amount released into our atmosphere currently. When the hydrogen reaches the stratosphere, it would react with oxygen to form water. This would create more clouds, which in turn would heat up the planet as light and heat would be trapped. As it heats up, more water vapor is created causing more water on the ground to turn to water vapor. This is called positive feedback as it causes an increase in temperature. Another issue to be considered is that because there are more clouds, they would delay the break up of the polar vortex (a natural phenomenon occurring in the north and south poles) causing the ozone layer to deplete in these areas (as the annual death of the polar vortexes causes an increase in ozone in the north and south poles). This would mean that the hole in the ozone layer would be larger and longer lasting. A solution to this issue would be to be careful when rebuilding for hydrogen to ensure as few leaks as possible.
Hydrogen, environmentally, is a very good way to go. It releases no pollutants or greenhouse gases, which are harmful to the environment. This will make a substantial contribution to our carbon footprint as a country and as a united world due to the amount of CO2 and other gases that will not be released into the atmosphere because of vehicles and planes. Hydrogen is also the most abundant element in the universe and on the planet, ensuring no issues regarding limited resources like there is with current day fossil fuels.
A photo of a massive hole in the southern polar vortex which exists over antartica.
An artist's depiction of a carbon footprint
Social Advantages of Hydrogen Fuel Cells
Social Disadvantages of Hydrogen Fuel Cells
Hydrogen fuel cells could have a very positive impact socially around the world. One social factor is health. Gases released due to the combustion of fossil fuels in current cars and planes can do serious damage to our health. Some examples of harmful gases that come out of exhaust pipes are carbon monoxide, sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxide, hydrocarbons and carbon dioxide. These gases are destructive to our health. Carbon monoxide affects the blood supply and can cause heart disease. Sulfur oxide causes acid rain. Nitrogen oxide causes the haze that can be found over cities (like Beijing). It blocks out the sunlight causing the cities to be dark and gloomy. Hydrocarbons cause cancer. Carbon dioxide is thought to cause global warming, which could subsequently kill us. These are all horrible illnesses that can be prevented by switching to hydrogen power.
A Stick figure
As stated previously, efficient hydrogen fuel cells use in cars and planes would eliminate fossil fuel use, or at least limit it substantially. Though this could do great things, it could also be very bad for countries like those in the Middle East. Since petrol demands have been rising and the cost have been as well, countries with huge amounts of oil like Middle Eastern countries have become very wealthy. If oil was no longer used, these countries would face a huge loss in money which would have significant impacts on the lives of all citizens in their society.
Is Hydrogen going to be the fuel of the future?
I feel that Hydrogen could be a liable source of fuel for not only New Zealand, but for the world as well. I believe that it is likely to become the fuel of the world, if a couple of technological obstacles such as problems previously mentioned along with some other unforeseen issues can be overcome.
Hydrogen will not only be a suitable fuel, but a sustainable and efficient one as well. Hydrogen would be better than other developing technologies, such as some of the electric cars that have been developed, as they do not rely on the electric grid, which is predominantly powered by electricity that comes from fossil fuels.
It would be a smart change in New Zealand to move to hydrogen fuel cells because, though currently the initial cost to the people to change to hydrogen would be high, it would save a huge amount of money, as there would be no need to pay for high priced fossil fuels. All that would be needed would be additional water pumped to houses or stations where hydrogen gas can be bought, which, considering its abundance should be fairly cheap, provided the cost of processing the water is not prohibitive.
New Zealand hasn't been left out in the hope of hydrogen fixing our problems. Companies like Mitsubishi, Hyundai and I.R.L. along with universities like Unitec are all doing studies into the possibility of hydrogen being a sustainable energy source for New Zealand.
Fuel cells could also be able to power things other than just vehicles. There are already many cases where hydrogen has been used to power homes and workplaces. An example is "the hydrogen house". The hydrogen house is a house (built in New Jersey, America) that relies solely on water and sunlight to power itself. Sunlight is changed, through solar panels, into electricity, which is stored in a battery. This electricity is used to power electrolysis, which splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is stored in several converted, low-pressure propane tanks. It can either be burned for cooking units or for heating. It can also, through fuel cells, generate more electricity, which can be used to power the home. This could very well be the way of the future.
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The area of the middle east on a world map
A Rainforest
A hydrogen powered car
Full transcript