I was fortunate to have as my high school chemistry and physics teacher and mentor, Dr. John Hart. He was somewhat of a futurist, always encouraging us to think about future implications and impacts of new technologies… to think outside of the box. For a class project we were each asked to suggest and research technologies to solve our growing dependence upon fossil fuels like oil. He was really ahead of his time. I chose the production of hydrogen gas as my topic. I decided on this alternative fuel based on a demonstration experiment that I had seen in eighth grade. The demonstration used six simple components: A container of acidified water, two carbon electrodes, two collection tubes, and an electrical power source. I feel now as I felt then that production of hydrogen for fuel is a sensible alternative to fossil fuels.
Hydrogen is the first element named on the periodic table of elements. It consists of one proton and one electron. Hydrogen is one of two components in water or H2O, which is the most abundant chemical compound on earth. But, “…unlike other forms of natural gas, hydrogen is a completely clean burning fuel. Once produced, hydrogen gas cells emit only water vapor and warm air when in use.” ecavo.com. “
Up until now, our main source of hydrogen has come from petroleum, where hydrogens are broken off from a petroleum molecule. This tried-and-true method has one drawback, however. The process creates many polluting hydrocarbons that are released into the atmosphere. The electrolysis method skirts this issue entirely. The only potential source of pollution comes from the method by which the initial electricity is generated. Obviously, a non-polluting source of energy is required, such as wind or solar.
Admittedly, the process of electrolysis is currently less efficient than the production of some fuel sources, but “… research continues to make it more efficient and cost-effective.” afdc.energy.gov. On the plus side, in the case of an electrolyzer, only water and warm air are emitted into the environment. There are virtually zero greenhouse gases. Currently, there are several different kinds of electrolyzers, including Polymer Electrolyte Membrane Electrolyzers, Alkaline Electrolyzers, and Solid Oxide Electrolyzers. energy.gov. The research and development is ongoing.
It has been predicted that, in the future, hydrogen will become competitive with electricity as a primary source of energy. “It will…be used as a fuel for 'zero-emissions' vehicles, to heat homes and offices, to produce electricity, and to fuel aircraft.” azocleantech.com. I am looking forward to seeing this technology developed to its full potential. It is one of the most sensible alternatives to a carbon-based economy.
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