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Hydrogen as a fuel is a great alternative source of clean and sustainable energy. As the only emission from hydrogen fuel cells is pure water, hydrogen is thought to be the most environmentally-friendly fuel on Earth. Naturally abundant throughout the universe, hydrogen is driving innovative energy technologies aiming to resolve the issues facing a world threatened by climate change.
Hydrogen is most commonly supplied in cylinders, although it can be stored and extracted from a variety of substances. These include a variety of chemical compounds or metal hydrides. In addition, hydrogen can be reformed from carbon-based fuels such as natural gas (CH4), ammonia (NH3), gasoline and diesel.
Today, hydrogen is commonly referred to as “the fuel of the future”, especially for private and public transportation, which are significant sources of pollution. Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz and General Motors and others are all focusing their efforts on the development and sale of hydrogen fuel cell cars as the supporting infrastructure is being deployed.
Additionally, many backup power systems have incorporated hydrogen fuel cells due to their advantages such as consistent power, limitless runtime, higher reliability, and zero emissions.
Nearly 65 million metric tons of hydrogen are produced every year worldwide using a variety of methods, including the steam reformation of carbon-based fuels such as natural gas (CH4), ammonia (NH3), gasoline and diesel. Newer, more eco-friendly methods of production use wind, solar, geothermal and hydroelectric power to split water. Although the production costs of hydrogen are lower than gasoline or methane, the current cost of distribution makes it more expensive than gasoline or methane for commercial usage. With increased emphasis in sustainable energy and increased hydrogen demand, new hydrogen infrastructure for distribution is being built in Japan, China, Europe, California and other US states. In 2017, there were more than 300 hydrogen refueling stations throughout the world although thousands more will be needed to support wide use of fuel-cell-powered vehicles or for continuously delivering power for telecom towers or people who live in off-grid areas.
Hydrogen is a flammable fuel but has been proven to be as safe or even safer than gasoline or natural gas (methane). Hydrogen is 57 times lighter than gasoline vapor and 14 times lighter than air. This means that in the event of a leak, hydrogen rapidly rises into the atmosphere at a speed of 45 mph (20 m/s) or 2,100 cubic feet per minute (60,000 l/min) and quickly dissipates and/or burns. View video explanation here.
A 2001 study by the University of Miami demonstrated the relative safety of hydrogen-fueled cars compared to gasoline-fuel cars. In the study, a gasoline-fed car fire entirely consumed the vehicle while the hydrogen-fed car fire was over in less than two minutes and the car was virtually undamaged.
Source: Swain, Dr. Michael R. “Fuel Leak Simulation.” University of Miami (2001).