Environmental Engineering Reference
except hydrogen and some helium were formed billions of years ago in
The transition from nonrenewable fossil fuel should consider the de-
velopment of technologies that can use the available energy of the sun. It
is reasonable to assume that solar energy will eventually serve as a pri-
mary energy source. As we attempt to use solar energy to replace the use
of fossil and nuclear fuels, this relationship between solar energy and hy-
drogen returns and one may not effectively work without the other.
Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and our sun
alone consumes 600 million tons of it each second. Unlike oil, widespread
underground reservoirs of hydrogen are not to be found on earth. While
hydrogen is the simplest element and most plentiful gas in the universe,
it never occurs by itself and always combines with other elements such as
oxygen and carbon. The hydrogen atoms are bound together in molecules
with other elements and it takes energy to extract the hydrogen.
Hydrogen is not a primary energy source, but it can be used like elec-
tricity as a method of exchange for getting energy to where it is needed. As
a sustainable, non-polluting source of power hydrogen could be used in
many mobile and stationary applications. As an energy carrier, hydrogen
could increase our energy diversity and security by reducing our depen-
dence on hydrocarbon-based fuels.
Hydrogen is different than other energy options like oil, coal, nucle-
ar or solar. Solar technology is renewable, modular and generally pollu-
tion free, but it has some disadvantages, such as not always being avail-
able at the right time.
Hydrogen and electricity are complementary and one can be con-
verted into the other. Hydrogen can be viewed as a type of energy cur-
rency that does not vary in quality depending on origin or location. A
molecule of hydrogen made by the electrolysis of water is the same as hy-
drogen manufactured from green plant biomass, paper, coal gasification
or natural gas.
Hydrogen is a primary chemical feedstock in the production of gaso-
line, fuel oils, lubricants, fertilizers, plastics, paints, detergents, electronics
and pharmaceutical products. It is also an excellent metallurgical refining
agent and an important food preservative.