Hydrogen: The Way to Save the Planet?

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Hydrogen: The Way to Save the Planet?

Hydrogen energy has often been marketed as the future clean energy source since it doesn’t contribute to tailpipe pollution. However, the easiest and cheapest way to harness hydrogen energy has been through the use of natural gases extracted from fossil fuels. What was supposed to be the answer to reducing carbon emissions only added to the issue.

Hydrogen energy can be obtained from water, a cleaner source than fossil fuels. Using electrodes, electric currents can split hydrogen from oxygen to be utilized as an emissions-free fuel source. The only problem with using water is that scientists can only use purified freshwater for this chemical process. The process to filter the water is an added expense, which is why hydrogen fuel never seemed to be an economically viable option.

However, scientists from Stanford University have formulated a new metal coating that allows electric currents to withstand chemical reactions that occur in salt water. This allows scientists to skip the water purification process in order to convert water into hydrogen energy. However, the conversion process requires an input of energy. Therefore, for hydrogen energy to be considered renewable, it also needs to be powered by a renewable source, inspiring the team to design their device to run on solar energy.

Although the team at Stanford suggests that the device can be used for SCUBA gear, any practical use still requires more research. However, other researchers have been finding different methods to utilize hydrogen energy. Researchers from Kumamoto University have been experimenting with extracting hydrogen using ammonia. In the past, ammonia was never considered since it only combusts at high temperatures. In addition, the byproduct of ammonia is nitrogen oxide, an air pollutant that can cause lung infections.  

Now researchers have introduced a new chemical made from various metals to aid with the production of hydrogen energy. Adding the new chemical allows ammonia to not only combust at lower temperatures but also to eliminate the nitrogen oxide byproduct. Instead, the combustion process only produces dinitrogen, which is harmless and makes up most of the planet’s atmosphere.

While the research is still in its early stages, hydrogen energy is slowly being implemented across the world. A hydrogen-fueled train is already implemented in Germany while the first hydrogen-powered ferry is set to sail in San Francisco. Japan showcased hydrogen-powered cars at the annual Tokyo Motor Show while Australia is set to expand exports of hydrogen energy to Japan and South Korea.

Hydrogen energy has always been promising, but it never set itself as being the energy source of the future like other renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. Promised to be the next big thing, hydrogen fuel never took off due to the physical constraints of production. But, as the world is pushing to reduce its carbon emissions, looking to a new energy source is more important than ever and hydrogen just might come back to be the answer. 

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