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How Car Stuff Works

How Hydrogen Economy Works

What is hydrogen economy: We have a large source of hydrogen fuel that is water. If only we can change the water into hydrogen and oxygen, we can have an unending source of non-polluting fuel. The economy based on such fuels is the known as the hydrogen economy. Let us first look at available sources of energy.

Use of fossil fuels: We use fossil fuels (consisting of lignite, bituminous coal, anthracite, crude oils and all other petroleum products) for all our energy requirements. A small part of our energy requirement comes from renewable form of energy and nuclear fuels; the rest comes from fossil fuels.

Effect of using fossil fuels: The atmospheric pollution resulting from use of fossil fuels is well known. The atmospheric pollutants like Co2, CO, NOx, have an effect of degrading quality of our life and reducing the average age of individual. The technology has been our savior and has changed our life by reducing pollutants. In the automobiles sector development of catalytic converters has the effect of reducing the pollution to a great extent.

Challenges of future: Now with the stocks of fossil getting reduced everywhere, we are forced use low quality of fuels all over the world, attention is now being focused on clean technologies for generation of power. The demand of power is increasing and supplies are dwindling. Alternative forms of energy have not yet come to a stage where they can be used commercially.

Global Warming: Vehicles normally use the fossil fuels in form of petroleum products. This accounts for a large amount of atmospheric pollution in metros and the cities. The results are acid rain, harmful effects on the human life, global warming due to increase of Co2 in atmosphere and the threat of all places in the world being inundated with water as the polar ice caps melt and the sea water level rising.

Water the perennial source of energy: We all know that a large part of world consists of water. Water is a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen. Water is formed when hydrogen is burnt along with oxygen. We all will have a bountiful source of energy if we are able to separate hydrogen and oxygen from the water. This is all very easy to say. The technique now employed for separating hydrogen and oxygen at present is the electrolysis technique.

Zero sum game: At present, hydrogen economy it is a losing game. We are using more energy in making hydrogen from water than we will get by burning the hydrogen we make from water. This will be a zero sum game if it reaches an efficiency level of unity. Unfortunately, the efficiency in any activity rarely approaches the level of unity. At this time, the generation of hydrogen from water (by electrolysis of water) and then using the hydrogen for use in automobile is a loss-making preposition.

The advantages of hydrogen economy: The level of pollution in cities comes mainly from automobile pollution this will be reduced largely. The cities will be ideal places to live if we adopt hydrogen economy.

Problems associated with hydrogen economy: As stated earlier, the hydrogen is an excellent fuel for use in vehicle. It has no pollution at all because the product of combustion is pure water. The major problems in development of this technology are as follows.

1. The development of fuel cells are not yet complete and some hybrid cars using hydrogen on experimental scale. The commercial use of fuel cells is some years away. Until fuel cell technology is developed, the use of hydrogen in cars cannot be a viable alternative.

2. As stated earlier, the production of hydrogen is a loss-making preposition and that would mean that we are using more energy for doing the same work. Until we start using technology that is based in renewable sources of energy, the main advantage of hydrogen economy (low pollution) will be lost since we will be just changing the place of pollution away from cities. We will have higher pollution levels the electricity is generated. The greenhouse effect is in fact higher, when we use this route for making hydrogen.

3. Safety aspects of using hydrogen: Hydrogen forms an explosive mixture with air from a low value (3%) to a very value (70%) This means that a very small leakage would lead to explosion and danger of fire will always exist. Foolproof (or rather idiot proof) arrangements will have to be made for avoiding fires with hydrogen.

In order to have a pure hydrogen economy, we will have to devise ways of getting hydrogen from water without spending large amounts of energy. The use of renewable sources of energy, or increasing the use of atomic energy may be an option we may have to consider. The hydropower, solar power, wind power, geothermal power are all the sources of power that are non polluting and if we use these sources we can move towards hydrogen economy and live in a really non polluting world.

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