In the past I was fascinated with hydrogen power. It was so simple and no pollution. You simply burned hydrogen which consumed oxygen and the end result was water and power.
It is a fascinating idea!
In reality, it is not what it appears.
Hydrogen does not exist in our atmosphere. It has long ago left for space just as helium has. Hydrogen is captive on earth in many forms – water, natural gas, methane, etc.
The cleanest way to free hydrogen in water is to use electrolysis. But since electrolysis uses electricity, we would hope that we get the electricity from a clean source such as wind or solar. If we get the electricity from coal, oil or gas, we may be defeating the idea of “clean” energy.
As can be seen from the Wikipedia article, most industrial methods of hydrogen extraction use natural gas through a process called steam reforming.
According to the Wikipedia article on steam-reforming, the U.S. produces 9 million tons of hydrogen per year with this process. Given that hydrogen is the lightest of all of the elements; this is an incredible amount of hydrogen!
And, considering that the other gases that are produced in steam-reforming are carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide, this is a lot of CO and CO2 being dumped into the atmosphere which is really going to upset people who are concerned with “greenhouse gases”.
Doesn’t sound like hydrogen powered anything is really a good idea?
Perhaps the worst unintended consequence of hydrogen extraction is the hydrogen that escapes into space. As soon as a leak occurs, hydrogen is not going to stick around – it is leaving!
For every 2 hydrogen atoms that escape our atmosphere, there is one less molecule of water that will exist on our planet. While we could say that there is plenty of water to go around, what happens to the lonely oxygen atom that does not have hydrogen atoms to bond to? Is it possible that we will over-oxygenate our planet?
I’m just asking. I don’t know.
As far as I can tell, hydrogen powered anything is far worse than ethanol powered anything. Ethanol production in the U.S. is a joke on the American taxpayer for the benefit of the mega-corporations.
There are even worse problems than the disappearance of water in a quest to use hydrogen power:
1. Hydrogen, being the smallest of all elements is difficult to contain effectively. It permeates the metal it travels through. It can even destroy the metal that it is traveling through. See hydrogen embrittlement.
2. Hydrogen is extremely explosive! It readily combines with oxygen to produce an intense invisible fire and explosion.
3. Steam reforming of natural gas or methane still uses water at intense temperatures and splits the hydrogen from the water as well as the gas. Again, we are damaging the water supply on the planet.
4. Hydrogen, contrary to some beliefs, is not a renewable resource since a lot of it escapes the planet.
Consider your local garage, or backyard mechanic, working on your hydrogen powered automobile. If they are working on the hydrogen fuel system, do you think they will get it back together with no leaks?
I don’t think so!
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