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Considering Hydrogen as a fuel

Updated on August 14, 2009

Why is hydrogen so important?

Hydrogen is the lightest element in the universe, and it is extremely versatile, combining is so many different ways with so many other elements to produce a rich variety of products and compounds. But those are not the focus of this Hub, rather the power this element can offer to the energy hungry world we live in.

For quite number of years I have studied the possibilities of hydrogen as a fuel, tried my hand at inventing ways t produce it and ways to store it, it is so light that it is difficult to store, but it does offer the solution to many of our energy problems. Roy McAlister wrote a book a few years ago that was the beginning of my journey into studying hydrogen and making alternative solutions to using oil. His book was called the Solar Hydrogen Economy and he foresees a world where oil is used for its productive compounds, not simply burned off and polluting our planet. The value of oil is huge, but not as a fuel, rather in the products such as plastics and almost every corner of our lives is touched by the commodities that can be manufactured from oil. It is a limited product, and we must conserve and save it for the most important items that can be produced from it.

Hydrogen, unlike oil, is a vastly renewable resource, two Hydrogen atoms and one Oxygen atom make up each molecule of water, which covers 75% of our world. We have plenty of water, it may not all be potable (fit for human consumption) but there is plenty of it available. As long as we stop the oil companies from destroying the water supply to procure and process the oil we use in our cars, this will remain the story. Unfortunately vast quantities of water are irrevocably being permanently polluted to process oil in many locations, notably in the oil sands in Canada and elsewhere. This atrocious waste of the most precious resource we have must be stopped as soon as possible.

The trick is to separate the hydrogen from the oxygen and then use it for an power resource. This is not that difficult, it can be accomplished through various chemical means or through electrolysis. This is accomplished by passing an electrical current through a reservoir of water (often with a catalyst in it) to break the bond between the liquid and release pure hydrogen and oxygen gas bubbles.

What is really scary about any of these methods is that they are not new, most of the technolgy was already available at the beginning of the 1900s and was quashed by the competition of cheap oil. If oil had not been allowed to have such a pure monoply as an energy source, and had been required to play on an even playing field without the vast subsidies and huge tax incentives given along the way, our energy menu would look much diffeerent today. Our present addiction to oil might not be so severe.

Chemical generation of hydrogen must be left to another time, Electrolysis fo water is one of the most commonly discussed metheds. In rudimentary electrolysis chambers, the gases are freed and then allowed to mix as they rise and leave the chamber. The result, often called Brown's Gas, is also quite flammable and is a powerful fuel in its own right. Often its promoters have demonstrated its power by employing it as the fiel for a welding torch instead of acetylene.

Brown's Gas is the output that is most often created by the various Hydrogen add-ons for car engines that purport to reduce gas consumption, increase horsepower and extend mileage. The theory is correct, but often the output of these machines is much too small and limited by the electrical system of the vehicle to live up to the expectations.

When either compound, hydrogen or Brown's gas is burned, the result is simply a return to water. No harmful toxic fumes or compounds released into the air as is the case with any petroleum based fuel, just plain, pure water! The hydrogen and oxygen recombine as they release the stored energy as heat as they oxidise. The real trick here is to make enough hydrogen (or Brown's Gas) without using more resources than the resulting energy potential can deliver.

This is often why electrolysis is used for transportation applications. The car is burning gas anyway, and the alternator is producing "free" electricity as it is spun by the flywheel. The electrical output of an alternator being spun by an internal combustion engine can be used to separate water without causing any extra environmental load. The reasoning is sound, but the output seems pretty skimpy as a practical matter. A good hydrogen generator needs to draw 20 amps in this application and is often not very efficient at producing the Brown's gas. In addition, the reservoir is often so small that even some vacuum suction from the intake can pull the water solution directly into the engine.

When considering electrolysis of water to release pure hydrogen or Brown's gas, the draw on other resources has been often disregarded, but it is quite significant. If you are using house current, such as the room heater suggested on my blog - - one must consider where the electricity is coming from. How environmentally friendly is it. I am lucky, if you discount the countless acres submerged to create the James Bay projects in Quebec, the energy I use in my home is quite renewable and environmentally friendly. If you are drawing from a place where the coal fired generators spew vast amounts of carbon and other compounds into the air, then the hydrogen may have a steep ecological price tag.

The idea here is to find a method to produce hydrogen from renewable sources anywhere and then store the result for use in all types of heaters or engines. The real logical power source is from the standard renewable alternative most often talked about, solar photovoltaic cells, wind turbines or micro hydro generators in a small stream or river.

When approached from this perspective, the use of hydrogen is an excellent way to store the energy creatred by these more standard sources. Assumingexcess electrical current is being produced, the classical storage method is the deep cycle battery. I suggest there is a much more effective storage device. Assumng water can be efficiently transformed into separated Oxygen and Hydrogen, the hydrogen can be stored in a tank. It only needs to be placed under pressure in a tank, which can last for many, many years without degradation. I am told that there are hydrogen tanks still in present day usage that were made in the early 1900s and show no signs of deteroration. Unlike batteries, which are extremely costly on both a price and environmental scale. They require careful disposal of toxic compounds when they are exhausted. A storage tank can be completely recycled into the metal components and re-used.

Hydrogen storage tanks are a much more environmentally friendly storage container and deliver a potent fuel when used in a small generator of heating device.

What is even more intriging is that when pure hydrgen burns, it must be combined with air to produce explosive power and heat. The air wil have lots of impurities that the hydrogen will burn along as it explodes, so the exhaust of an exclsively hydrogen driven motor will actually reduce pollution while outputting pure water as well. It is time that the explosive power of pure hydrgen become a path of exploration, who really needs fuel cells for home purposes, generat electricity from renewable sources such as wsun, wind and water, then electrolyse water to pure hydrogen, store it and burn it as a replacement fuel.


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