What If… Hydrogen Was the Main Source of Energy

In its pure form, hydrogen is a gas at room temperature. It is classified as the simplest and most abundant of chemical elements, which can be used as a fuel and/or an industrial chemical. Hydrogen gas can be used as a fuel in specially designed internal combustion engines. Moreover, it can generate electricity and heat when it is used in fuel cells.

How it is made? Used?
The largest user of hydrogen is the petroleum industry for converting crude oil into gasoline and hundreds of chemicals. Sometimes, it is used in welding torches for welding or cutting metals.
In order to make hydrogen ready for use as a fuel, hydrogen needs energy to be separated from other elements. In its general form, the majority of hydrogen is locked with water or hydrocarbon fuels. Hydrogen can be separated from water, gasoline, natural gas, sewage and coal gas. Solar energy is considered as the ideal energy source required for the separation process. However, this is not the only method to perform this procedure; separation can be carried out either by liquefaction of the other components of the gas or by catalytic conversion. Hydrogen is prepared in the laboratory by the action of diluting acid on metals, like zinc, and by the electrolysis of water.
As a matter of fact, water (H2O) is the most well known and abundant source of hydrogen, thus the electrolysis method is the most common one to produce hydrogen through the utilization of electricity in order to split water molecules into component hydrogen and oxygen molecules.
The means of producing and distributing hydrogen energy is simple and accessible. Hydrogen could be produced at centralized manufacturing plants and then distributed to end users by tanker or pipeline, which is similar to the existing use of propane or natural gas. Also, there is another method of production, which is the on-site production. And, if hydrogen is used in motor vehicles, it can be produced on-board.
Concerning its shipment and transfer, hydrogen has two forms; gas or liquid. The first form requires tanks similar to propane but at significantly higher pressures due to the lower energy density or tanks containing metal hydride in which gas hydrogen can be stored.
As a liquid, super-insulated tanks at very low temperatures are indispensable for the storage of liquid hydrogen, which has a much higher energy density than gas.

Advantages and Disadvantages
In the list of advantages resulting from the use of hydrogen energy, we can add the following. First, hydrogen energy is classified as pollution free. “The burning of hydrogen with air under appropriate conditions in combustion engines or gas turbines results in very low or negligible emissions.” When compared to fossil fuels, Hydrogen is the only fuel whose production and end use can both contribute directly to eliminating many of our environmental, economic, and health problems. Engines utilizing hydrogen, which is a non toxic substance, last much longer and start faster despite the weather conditions.
Second, Hydrogen is characterized by its higher operation efficiency than internal combustion engines as more fuel is directly converted to electricity. Hydrogen fuel cells utilize the energy of a reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, which is converted directly and continuously into electrical energy, like a “re-fuelable battery”, for electric vehicle propulsion. According to the recent scientific research, Hydrogen represents the best technique to power future Electric Vehicles and existing vehicles which incorporate internal combustion engines.

Third, from an economic point of view, most of internal combustion engines in automobiles and aircraft can be economically converted to utilize and burn hydrogen fuel. Due to the fact that hydrogen vehicles emit little or no carbon dioxide, these vehicles are viewed as an especially attractive option for reducing global warming trends.
Fourth, the technologies invented for the use of hydrogen have been tested and in use for many years. For instance, the chemical and petrochemical industries for the synthesis of chemical raw materials, such as production of ammonia, ethylene and methanol, have increased their demand for hydrogen. The processing of fuels in refineries (hydrogen production during thermo-cracking, hydrogen consumption for desulphurization and hydrogenation of fuels) is considered the most important producer and consumer of hydrogen.
Disregard the advantages discussed earlier, we can not ignore the other list of disadvantages. First, the cost of production and storage are still high and not feasible for everyone. Hydrogen powered vehicles are still in the research stage and are not generally available. Currently, hydrogen energy is more expensive than other energy sources and existing infrastructure has not been built to accommodate hydrogen fuel.

Second, the process of extracting hydrogen may require fossil fuels and therefore, this may generate pollution.

Third, the present lack of hydrogen manufacturing and distribution infrastructure represents a major drawback to the spread of the use of hydrogen energy worldwide. Although as explained earlier hydrogen can be stored and distributed using existing infrastructure, this may be a short to medium term solution to supplying hydrogen. There is a possibility in finding new methods to produce hydrogen from other fuels such as alcohol or gasoline that are processed using a reformer, which can be a longer term solution to solve the problem of storage and distribution.

Countries investing in the development of Hydrogen Energy
Nowadays, there is a significant drift worldwide towards the development of diversified energy strategies. Many countries have altered their previous policies concerning energy and have implemented these strategies and developed new methods to better utilize more types of energies, among which is hydrogen.
Japan is one of the earliest countries that headed the studies on hydrogen energy, with a current focus on fuel battery. The Japanese government has further facilitated the hydrogen fuel supply by building hydrogen stations nationwide in order to boost hydrogen energy popularity in the country. Nearly 100 FCHVs have been licensed and the number is expected to reach 1,500 by 2030.
In 2003, the American government invested $1.7 billion in a hydrogen fuel initiative which focused on the industrialized production, storage and application of hydrogen energy and a year later, it set up its first hydrogen station. By the end of 2005, a fixed hydrogen power device known as “the third generation household power station” went into operation in the state of California. This device was 30% lighter than the second one with 25% increase in power generation and 50% expansion of hydrogen production and storage.
The European Union allocated nearly 30 million euros to double its investments in hydrogen energy and fuel cell during its sixth Framework Program (2002-2006). The five Nordic nations, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Iceland have established the Nordic Energy Research with the goal of improving their capability in producing bio-hydrogen.
In china, scientists and researchers developed a sample vehicle driven by hydrogen fuel cells.

What if hydrogen energy is produced in Egypt?
Trying to assess the future use of hydrogen, if Egypt produces hydrogen energy, it will then ensure lower rates of pollution and solve its environmental problems to some extent. The use of fuel cells and internal combustion engines in vehicles will save the oil and natural gas resources and solve the problem of oil and gas depletion.
Using small portions of the global land area, the government can manufacture enough Solar-Hydrogen to supply the entire energy requirement of the different industrial sectors in the country. Solar Hydrogen could make entire nations fuel-independent and pollution free for as long as there is sunshine and water.

Imagined by Yomna Bassiouni


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