Probably the single most promising alternative fuel we have to date is also one of the most abundant elements on the planet: plain old hydrogen. Hydrogen can be made cheaply and easily on site anywhere there is a ready source of water and electricity. That means no more American dependence on foreign oil for our energy needs, and lower fuel costs while cleaning up smog and other pollution.
How a Hydrogen Plant Works
Hydrogen is not found in any significant quantity as a free gas on Earth. As the lightest of all the elements, what free hydrogen there once was has long since boiled away into space. All that remain now are minute quantities of free hydrogen in the upper atmosphere. Most of Earths hydrogen is locked away in the form of water.
A hydrogen plant, therefore, makes hydrogen on site by a simple process known as electrolysis. What this boils down to is simply this: when you pass an electric current through water, it breaks apart into hydrogen and oxygen gases. The gases are collected, separated, and compressed into liquid form. And that’s all there is to it!
Hydrogen Storage and Transport
The single biggest problem is that hydrogen is dangerous to store and transport. Since it liquifies at extremely low temperatures and high pressures, the safety concerns are considerable. For this reason alone, we will probably never see liquid hydrogen powering our personal vehicles. Rather, hydrogen can be used to generate electricity at central power stations which is then used to charge an electric vehicle. But it cannot be said with any certainty that this is the only way it will work. There are some promising developments in cell storage, where the liquid hydrogen is stored in an aerogel foam that is immune to catastrophic failure due to heating or ruptures. The hydrogen gas is allowed to bubble up out of the foam for the fuel cell or hydrogen combustion engine.
The Benefits of Hydrogen
Hydrogen as a fuel, whether used in fuel cells or simply burned in a combustion engine, are manifold. There are absolutely no emissions other than water vapor, which returns to the ground as rain, ready to be reformed into hydrogen gas for burning again. Contrast this to the limited petroleum resources we have available, in non-renewable deposits, and all the harmful byproducts of petrochemical combustion. It certainly seems that hydrogen will someday be powering our cities, vehicles, and maybe even our electronics with miniaturized fuel cells producing electricity. A greener world is not as far off as you may think!