H2: The Hydrogen Economy

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 9:12 AM By Stephen J Christophers

For a long time the worlds energy crisis has been headline news, while our consumption and dependency on highly polluting fossil fuel resources are the number one human contribution to global CO2 emissions. We live in a fossil fuel economy, around which we have built-up countless systems of fossil fuel inter dependencies; these dependencies limit and dictate the structures of our economic growth models and methods of social consumption. Nevertheless, time is rapidly running out: Carbon emissions are contributing to global warming, and reserves of these natural resources are beginning to slowly dwindle. The need to change the way in which we prioritize current fuel energy resources, could be the answer to solving many of these global issues. The knock-on effect of change and its impact on current fuel consumption will drive us into an evolutionary era, as we strive to invent new and more efficient systems of energy transfer.

There are several fuel resources that offer us a peak into this new and dynamic future, with little if any requirement for fossil fuel consumption. Some of these are related to the quickly emerging markets in bio-fuels, like that of methanol, derived from naturally grown products, and vegetable oils as a replacement fuel for diesel engines. However, the limitations of these naturally produced products are evident in both their ability to be mass produced, and adaptability to current technology. Our planet is abundant with solar energy and other forms of sustainable fuels, although, often the impracticality of their use places them in more niche markets, until such time as we are able to tap these resource more effectively. Today though, I would like to take a look at another technology, that of Hydrogen, and some of the current ideas that are floating around with regards to its application as an alternative fuel source.

It’s commonly stated that the world’s surface is 70% water: water is fundamental to the creation of life on our planet. Water touches on all aspects of life, without water we, and that of all life on earth would perish. Mans recent explorations of Mars is attempting to uncover traces of this precious element, in the hope of finding life’s building blocks, and the answer to whether life’s existence is universal; furthermore, in the hope of using it to sustain us as we strive to visit new worlds in the future.

To understand how water can be so valuable - as an energy resource - we must first take it apart: water consists of H2 (two Hydrogen atoms) and O (one Oxygen atom) both of these elements are useful to us individually, and as water is in a state of stability – a combination of both elements – it gives us a foundation from which to utilize the properties of both.

Hydrogen is a volatile element – we have all heard of the Hindenburg disaster – and has applications in many capacities as a fuel, although, its stability and storage capabilities are somewhat questionable.

Oxygen is a life giving element - a gas in its common state - which allows us to breath; it contributes to life in such a way as to be fundamental to our biological system requirements.

The potential of both elements in H2O form have given rise to some interesting technologies, and a revolutionary new paradigm, one of which is, “the hydrogen economy.” The hydrogen economy allows us to utilize hydrogen energy as never before, effectively helping us to rethink energy systems, energy consumption and storage etc. Waters affect on the world around us - in common form - is astonishing and even more so when looking at the application and use of its elementary properties individually. Utilizing water for stored energy is not new: Aboard the International Space Station water is recycled and broken down into its H2 and O for use by astronauts. Oxygen is one part of their life support system provided through this process of electrolysis.

Furthermore, with our advances in technology and our ability to access waters stored elements more efficiently, we are able to create potential in the hydrogen economy and thus making it a contender for future energy mining. For example, the reengineering of fuel systems for motor vehicles has shown relative potential, whereas the advances in technology could greatly effect change. Recent advancements in accessing water stored hydrogen means that, it is no longer a requirement for electrical currents to be used as an extraction method for the release of stored hydrogen in water, or the requirement for unstable hydrogen to be stored and transported before use, at all – simplifying the process of its acquisition.

An alloy which comprises of gallium and aluminum allows for such a reaction to take place without the aid of electrical currents, therefore, creating a fuel supply which with minimal upgrading to the current internal combustion engine sees water-hydrogen as a viable fuel resource, although, in some conjecture, due to the cycles requirement for high energy resources needed in the production of gallium alloy. So, a rethink in respects to our overall hydrogen for fuel energy cycle is necessary. With regard to the simplicity of application, this process is however one that commands attention as we seek out new alternatives.

“We call this the aluminum-enabling hydrogen economy," Woodall said. "It's a simple matter to convert ordinary internal combustion engines to run on hydrogen. All you have to do is replace the gasoline fuel injector with a hydrogen injector." Sources: Jerry M. Woodall, (765) 494-3479, woodall@dynamo.ecn.purdue.edu

Nevertheless, this system does have its short comings. Our current fossil fuel economy falls well short in the quest to supply hydrogen as a commercial fuel source via such methods. And other factors see the current efficiency of such a system in doubt. However, there is potential in the hydrogen economy.

For some relatively simple money saving applications ‘now’ look at HHO car kits and Bio-fuels for diesel engines. I will introduce some examples when I have a little more time.

Music for inspiration::Air - All I Need [ DJ Haine Mixup ]::