Hydrogen- the fuel of the future?
The days of horse and buggy are long gone. Today, we are able to make it across country or travel from one continent to another in a matter of hours as opposed to days, weeks, or years. We can travel to all sorts of new, exciting places- by way of planes, trains, and automobiles. This is no doubt fantastic and convenient, but all of this transport has to be powered by something.
Since the advent of the Industrial Revolution, most of this required energy has been supplied by traditional fossil fuels. Our economies, as well as our personal lives, have been heavily dependent on fossil fuels for hundreds of years. But these fuels come up short in a couple different ways. First of these is that they are a non-renewable resource and as such are not going to be around forever. And once we run out, all of our modern technology will have to be powered by something else. Moreover, the impact that the burning of fossil fuels has on our environment is nothing to write home about. For these reasons, a copious amount of time, money, and energy has gone into the search for the next great alternative fuel.
All of this research has yielded some promising results. Today, the most feasible options for alternative fuels of the future are hydrogen, electricity, compressed natural gas, compressed air, and biofuels. Each of these has its own advantages and drawbacks, but the one that stands out above all others in terms of long-term viability is hydrogen.
“In the realm of alternative fuels, we see a future in hydrogen. Hydrogen is a converter of energy and does not produce any emissions at the site of burning. Hydrogen is created through several different techniques, with the most common one being steam reformation of natural gas. Other methods are partial oxidation of petroleum residue or separation of refinery processes, and, of course, hydrogen can be created through water electrolysis,” explains Dr. Ing. Tomáš Herink, head of Research and Development at Unipetrol.
The technology that powers hydrogen fuel vehicles is produced as a consequence of two relatively simple chemical reactions happening inside the vehicle’s fuel cell. The end result of these two chemical reactions creates electricity, which is then used to power the vehicle and make it go.
There are several reasons that hydrogen is an attractive alternative fuel option. To start off, hydrogen is the most abundant element on earth, meaning that the chances of it running out anytime soon are slim to none. Furthermore, it is a fuel that is theoretically available anywhere there is water and a clean source of power. And perhaps the greatest attraction of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles is their potential for pollution-free operation. The only by-product that a hydrogen fuel cell car emits out of its tail pipe is pure water. The water that is produced is clean enough to drink, meaning it doesn’t contribute to local pollution.
“The pressure to reduce greenhouse gases, which are produced (not only) by transportation vehicles, strengthens the significance of using hydrogen for transportation purposes. Current projects are mainly focused on the usage of hydrogen as an energy carrier for fuel cells, rather than combustion engines” says Ing. Jiří Hájek, director of development and innovation at UniCRE research center.
Another fabulous feature of using a hydrogen cell to power vehicles is their safety. Even in the event of a hydrogen leak, it is still much safer than gasoline, which remains on the ground to be ignited. Meanwhile, its being the lightest element in the periodic table means that hydrogen quickly disperses into the atmosphere and bonds with atmospheric oxygen to create water. And as we all know, water is not likely to blow up and cause any damage.
Hydrogen cars take about as much time to fuel up as regular petrol cars. One can fill up their hydrogen tank in a matter of minutes and that charge will last for hundreds of kilometers- a feat that would take a matter of hours to accomplish with a classic electric car.
Hydrogen truly is the most promising alternative fuel for our future. It provides value in terms of being extremely friendly to our environment, is one of the safest fuel options available on the market, and its utilization is both swift and efficient.