Is Clean Energy Finally Becoming a Cost Effective Reality?

Hydrogen, known to be the most abundant element in the universe, makes up nearly 75-percent of all detectable matter. Due to its vast abundance, it is only natural for science and industry to want to find the best path to optimizing hydrogen’s use as a fuel for modern vehicles.

To understand the kind of energy hydrogen is capable of producing, one need only imagine the massive punch produced by a hydrogen bomb explosion.

Fortunately, although the thought of a hydrogen fuel cell exploding causes concern, the goal of using hydrogen in fueling automobiles centers around its use being both energy efficient and safe.

Is Hydrogen Safe to Use in Automobiles?

When the public thinks of hydrogen as fuel, it is difficult to forget the Hindenburg; yet, according to this, opponents of this cause for the fire argue that the fire was reported to burn bright red. When hydrogen burns, it actually burns blue.

Provided that a fuel cell is capable of preventing hydrogen from having contact with air, the possibility of a hydrogen fire is reasonably small. According to Consumer Energy Center, it is argued that hydrogen tends to be no more dangerous than other fuels and in many respects its hazards are easier to manage than hydrocarbon fuels.

One reason is because hydrogen is lighter than air and tends to burn upwards in open areas, where heavier fuels tend to remain at the burn site. As for being safe for the environment, the extent of the harm caused by converting hydrogen to electricity ends up being that it produces common water and heat as a byproduct.

This picture tends to look more inviting when one considers how switching from coal to hydrogen-based power plants would significantly clean up the air pollution problem around the globe.

As a consequence, switching from coal and gas to hydrogen leads to a massive win for the environment. On an even brighter note, hydrogen is tasteless, odorless, and not toxic, making it relatively safe to breathe.

Problems with Hydrogen

Although hydrogen is relatively easy to manage and generally safe when properly stored, one should not ignore that hydrogen has some potential dangers. Among these dangers, when working with hydrogen, exists the problem of corrosion.

Corrosion of hardware components may occur when hydrogen gets combined with other liquids. Strict controls on temperatures also need to be maintained in such applications, otherwise the resultant corrosive properties runs the risk of causing damage to sealants and valves (you can check compatibility here).

If these components become weak or brittle, this potentially allows for hydrogen leaks. This in turn leads to a dangerous problem of volatile hydrogen coming into contact with an oxidizing substance like oxygen. It does not take much to ignite hydrogen under such conditions.

Harvesting Hydrogen for Consumer Use

With auto manufacturers looking to put more hydrogen fuel-based cars and trucks on the road, such an endeavor will require cheap and efficient methods of getting at the hydrogen needed to produce the fuel to meet consumer demand. Generally, hydrogen is produced from reformed gas. The cleaner way of getting hydrogen, electrolysis, happens to be far more expensive.

According to this article, a cheaper alternative to electrolysis, which also avoids the use of fossil fuels, has been developed by researchers at Cal Tech. Chemical-engineering professor, Mark Davis, spearheads this new approach of heat driven water splitting.

The advantage to Davis’ method is that it uses relatively low temperatures and demonstrates the ability to avoid former issues of creating toxic or corrosive intermediate materials. To perform high temperature water splitting, simply heat up an oxidized metal. This works to push away the oxygen. Then just add water.

Davis’ procedure is a little different in that his metal of choice is manganese oxide. To encourage the reaction of driving off the oxygen, Davis then passes sodium ions in and out of the metal medium. The use of sodium ions makes it possible to keep temperatures much lower than in a typical water splitting approach.


Although a lot of people still worry about the move towards hydrogen as the fuel of the future, significant scientific progress has been made in this endeavor to make this transition reasonably safe, practical, and cost effective.

As with many new advancements in science, a normal amount of fear and hesitation is to be expected; however, as people push forward and become more familiar with these changes, time will eventually bring us to the realization of wondering how we ever lived without the modern global scale energy saving conveniences hydrogen is certainly able to provide.

Philip Piletic is the author of this article

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