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What Is Hydrogen Energy?

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  • Written By: Karize Uy
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2016
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Hydrogen energy is a source of energy recently tapped to become one of the accessible forms of alternative energy, like wind, water, and solar energy. Engineers and scientists believe that hydrogen is a viable energy source because it is the most abundant element in the universe and is also the simplest of all elements, having just one proton and electron. Hydrogen energy is most beneficial to the environment, as it does not produce any toxic emissions when burnt.

Hydrogen may be the most abundant element in the universe, but on Earth, it is hardly present on its own; rather, it exists with other elements to form compounds and gases, such as with oxygen to form water. Other organic products that contain hydrogen include fossils, methanol, and other natural gases. Even algae and some bacteria contain hydrogen because they absorb sunlight, which, in turn, contains hydrogen because the Sun is basically a hydrogen-containing star. In order to create hydrogen energy, the hydrogen must be harvested from these compounds that undergo certain processes.

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One of the most widespread method for producing pure hydrogen is electrolysis, which separates the hydrogen atoms from oxygen ones out of water. Electrolysis is very effective and is also environmentally-friendly because the process does not produce any polluting emissions. It is, however, not as efficient as it is very expensive to operate. Another method for harvesting hydrogen is steam reforming, which splits the carbon atoms from hydrogen ones from methane. Steam reforming is not as expensive as electrolysis, but is more harmful to the environment due to the carbon it releases in the air, causing a greenhouse effect.

Under the process, the hydrogen reacts with the oxygen or the carbon and produces the hydrogen energy. In this way, the hydrogen itself is not the source of energy, but only acts as the carrier of energy. The extracted hydrogen is then stored in tanks in liquid form, making it easier to store and conserve. When it is to be used, the hydrogen is poured into fuel cells or batteries and in gas tanks. Hydrogen energy is even credited by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for successfully lifting off the space shuttles.

Aside from fueling space shuttles, hydrogen energy has been proven an effective fuel for cars, buses, and trains. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has reported that there are over 300 buses and cars that use hydrogen fuel, and there are about 70 hydrogen-filling stations across the states. Hydrogen energy is also applied as a generator and power system in rural hospitals not reached by the electrical companies.

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