There are realities that suggest that the current energy economy is not sustainable. The emissions from fossil fuels, which are the most widely used source of fuel worldwide, have led to environmental pollution. This has contributed to global warming, which is the main cause of major climatic and health problems that are currently being experienced in the world. What is more, the world is running out of raw materials for fossil fuels, since it takes hundreds if not thousands of years to replace them. The fact that only a few countries in the world possess oil fields has contributed to numerous conflicts between producers and heavy consumers of this valuable product. This also makes third-world countries "economic-slaves" of oil producers. The world population is steadily growing, which consequently increases the demand for energy. In this discussion, we will look at hydrogen fuel as an alternative source of fuel.
This is an environmentally friendly fuel that uses electrochemical cells, that is, hydrogen, (H2) and oxygen (O2), which are burned to produce energy that can be used in all applications that require the use of energy.
Being the first element in the periodic table, hydrogen turns out to be the lightest element on earth. It can be found in the largest amounts than any other element on the planet. Since this element is very light, it rises into the atmosphere where it cannot be easily obtained. Due to this fact, the element cannot occur in its pure form H2. It occurs in other forms such as water or methane gas. Hydrogen gas can be simply termed as an energy carrier rather than an energy source. This is explained by the fact that when it is burned in a flame, it reacts with oxygen O2 to produce two things: water (H2O) and heat. The heat produced is energy that will be used to power motor vehicles or spacecrafts.
The greatest advantage that hydrogen fuel has over other sources of energy like fossil fuel or fuels like petrol or diesel is that when burned, it produces only one chemical by-product. The by-product is nitrogen oxides, which is produced in very small amounts. Due to this advantage, this fuel is environmentally friendly in that it does not pollute the environment.
As mentioned earlier, hydrogen gas cannot occur in its pure form (H2). Thus, it has to undergo some industrial processing. The manufacturing process requires a substantial amount of energy to convert it into other forms to be easily used. Basically, there are two methods of manufacturing hydrogen fuels: electrolysis and the steam-methane reforming process. The most commonly used method among the two is the steam-methane reforming process. This process is aimed at extracting hydrogen gas from methane gas (CH4). Though this is a commonly used method, it also has some disadvantages. Among them is the production of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, which greatly contributes to global warming.
In an attempt to reduce the side effects that come with the steam-methane reforming method, the electrolysis hydrogen processing method is used. In this method, electricity is run through water to separate two gases that makeup water, which are hydrogen and oxygen. There are several sources of electricity that are necessary for this process. Such sources include wind, solar, geothermal sources, fossil fuels, and biomass among others. Since we aim to reduce environmental pollution, natural sources of electricity, which are the wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal sources, are preferred. Apart from protecting the environment, the method of hydrogen production is relatively cheap as compared to steam-methane reforming and other methods.
After being processed, using the abovementioned methods or any other method, the hydrogen produced is termed as an energy carrier. In order to obtain energy from hydrogen, it has to be burned. The heat in a hydrogen flame is a radiant emission from newly formed water molecules. These water molecules are in two states: an exited state and a ground state. The exited state is the initial formation. Water in this state undergoes a transition to the ground state, which is the natural form in which water occurs. The transition from the exited state to the ground state leads to a release of thermal radiation. The released heat energy is capable of powering motor vehicles and even spacecrafts. When hydrogen is burning in the air, it releases heat up to 20000 C. This potential is what makes hydrogen a desirable source of energy.
This type of fuel has numerous uses. These uses include its use in the transport sector, industrial processes, and household use. In the transport sector, hydrogen fuel can be used to power all currently used means of transport. These include vehicles, aircrafts, ships, and so on. Further, hydrogen fuels can be used in households to meet various energy-related needs. Such needs include lighting, cooking, food preservation, warming houses, pumping water, and even operating lawn mowers. In the industrial sector, hydrogen fuel can be used to power large machines required in the processing activities.
Since all governments in the world are struggling to curb the adverse effects of environmental pollution, which has been the main cause of global warming, hydrogen fuel can be termed as the most appropriate solution. The use of hydrogen fuel to power motor vehicles is environmentally friendly. When it is used, only water and small amounts of nitrogen oxide are produced as by-products. Nitrogen oxide has a minimal effect on the environment and water is not a pollutant. This source of energy is absolutely "clean".
The use of hydrogen fuel as a source of energy is more efficient. As a matter of fact, it is two to three times more efficient than fossil fuels and other combustion methods. A conventional combustion power plant produces electricity at efficiencies of 33 to 35 percent. On the other hand, fuel cell systems such as hydrogen fuel generate electricity at efficiencies rated more than 60 percent. These levels of efficiencies make hydrogen fuel the most effective alternative source of energy. Hydrogen fuel is a renewable source of energy since the water obtained at the end of the processing can be recycled back to produce more energy.
The last and most important advantage that hydrogen fuel has over other sources of energy is the fact that it is cost-effective. First, this happens due to the fact that hydrogen is freely available and it is found in numerous volumes. Thus, there are no chances that its sources can get exhausted. The only cost incurred in obtaining the advantages presented by hydrogen fuel is the processing cost.
The use of hydrogen fuel, on the other hand, has several disadvantages. One of them is that hydrogen fuel is not self-reliant in that it has to depend on other sources of energy, especially during the processing. Also, the process of separating hydrogen from water or methane requires the use of special technologies. This calls for large amounts of initial capital and experts to run such processing plants. Another major disadvantage of using hydrogen fuel is that it will be necessary to create new vehicle engines. Thus, it will definitely take time to overhaul the existing models of vehicle engines.
In conclusion, as it can be seen from this discussion, hydrogen stands as the next candidate of an alternative source of energy. This is clearly evident since the advantages offered by hydrogen fuel outweigh its disadvantages. Thus I recommend a substantial amount of resources to be invested into the use of hydrogen fuel. This will help in saving nearly half the costs incurred worldwide by using other forms of fuel. This will also greatly assist in reducing environmental pollution. Since hydrogen fuel can be locally produced, both underdeveloped and developing countries will end up being economically independent.