Thursday, December 10, 2009

Will Hydrogen be the Fuel of the Future?

For decades byproducts of petroleum have fueled our industries and vehicles. Though the burning of these fuels has been the backbone of our economy they have had an adverse effect on our environment. As the fear of global warming rises; governments, entrepreneurs, and industries are spending millions to find what will replace oil byproducts. Hydrogen, one of the most abundant elements on earth, has become one of the fuels to challenge oil’s supremacy, but will it be the fuel to power the green revolution?
There are many pros to hydrogen fuel cells. In the fuel cells hydrogen is mixed with oxygen to create electricity to power a vehicle. Fuel cell vehicles emit no noxious gases; the byproducts of a fuel cell are water vapor and heat. The abundance of hydrogen makes it a perfect substitute from oil, which is a finite resource. Hydrogen can also be produced in large quantities domestically by using water from the great lakes, lessening our dependence on foreign sources of energy and creating jobs that cannot be outsourced. Currently hydrogen fuel is also being used in a variety of prototype vehicles from cars, buses, airplanes, rockets, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Even with all of hydrogen’s benefits there are some major problems with hydrogen.
A major problem with hydrogen is that it does not occur naturally by itself in nature. Hydrogen is usually bonded to other elements due to the fact that it only has one electron that orbits its atomic structure. Hydrogen can be separated from water by using electrolysis, but this method is very expensive and power intensive. Most hydrogen now is processed from natural gas because of the high cost of the separation process. Another problem is the cost of the fuel cell within the car. Even though fuel cells have been in use for over fifteen years engineers have not found an innovative way to make fuel cells cheaper. These high cost make the hydrogen powered car to expensive for most consumers and not cost effective for companies to mass produce. At the present time there are only a few hydrogen fueling stations scattered around the country and for hydrogen to overtake gasoline a distribution system has to be built which would cost billions and would take decades to build and get running efficiently to satisfy the consumer s fuel needs.
Besides the problems that hydrogen has the industry has fierce competitors like electric cars and plug in hybrids that seemed poised to knock hydrogen down the list for alternatives. In 2009 US energy secretary Steven Chu eliminated public funding for hydrogen fuel cell research, but Congress rejected the idea and approved 300 million to continue research on hydrogen fuel cells. There are some in Congress that think that hydrogen will be the vital to repowering how America will travel in the future. As for an entrepreneur wanting to get in the hydrogen fuel cell industry it seems that without drastic innovation to bring down cost and the political will to start building distribution infrastructure, hydrogen fuel will not be the fuel to replace oil.

No comments: