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The Future is in Hydrogen

The Future is in Hydrogen

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Wednesday, February 20, 2019/Categories: sustainability, art and design, environment, climate change

                   Refueling a Hydrogen Car in Queensland Australia, 8-8-2018 (credit: the ABC & YouTube)

In the 1967 film The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman's character was advised at a dinner party that "the future is in plastics". Fifty years on, we're not too sure that was good advise considering the environmental pollution caused by discarded plastic trash. Similar advice might apply today as "the future is in hydrogen". It offers great potential but its future is still 'maybe'.

Several important limitations relate to using hydrogen to replace gasoline and diesel as fuel in cars and trucks. Hydrogen is typically produced through hydrolysis by splitting the atomic bonds of water (H2O) molecules. Hydrogen bonds (H=O=H) that hold water molecules together are tight and require energy to separate the hydrogen and oxygen atoms. The process is expensive and so the resulting hydrogen is expensive. The potential advantage of using hydrogen as a fuel source is that the gas produces power similar to a standard gasoline. The exhaust from burning hydrogen is simple water rather than petrochemical smog and climate changing greenhouse gases.

A second limitation for the use of hydrogen as a transport fuel is the classic issue of "which came first, the chicken or the egg" referring to whether vehicles should be build to run on hydrogen first or whether fueling stations need first to be built initially to service vehicles. Thus far, a single hydrogen refueling station exists in San Francisco Bay Area. So, current supplies of hydrogen are expensive and filling stations do not exist. Pretty major disadvantages for a revolutionary fuel to power fleets of individual and commercial vehicles.

A 'consumer report' was provided by Mr. Mobile, a car technology reviewer, who had the opportunity to test drive a Toyota Mirai that runs on a hydrogen fuel cell. He reports the advantages and disadvantages of the vehicle.

However, research in Australia may have overcome both of the current limitations for using hydrogen ie, its high cost and low supply. Earlier this year, our Journal presented the first development in this entry about  A Renewable Energy System being developed at Melbourne's Monash University. Their project utilizes renewable solar and wind energy to generate electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. This was followed by a new announcement from Australia's research and industrial research agency, the CSIRO, relating to their own research on hydrogen as a fuel source. These dual efforts could revolutionize how hydrogen is produced and distributed. If commercially viable, renewably produced hydrogen could turn sunny and breezy Australia into an alternative energy super-power. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (the ABC) reporting from Queensland and discussed powering hydrogen-fueled cars.

The admonition that "future is in hydrogen" could actually happen. If so, the impact will be far more positive than the ocean pollution that has occurred from disposable plastic trash.



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