What is hydrogen?

Hydrogen (H) is the first element on the periodic table and is the most abundant gas in the known universe. Each atom of hydrogen consists of only one proton. Despite this, there is no natural hydrogen produced on Earth as it is only found in a combined form. Water (H2O), for example, is a combination of hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen is also found in other forms such as hydrocarbons which are contained within fuels such as petrol, diesel, natural gasses, methanol, and propane.

Hydrogen is not actually an energy source itself, but instead an energy carrier. For this reason, hydrogen has a unique and often, at times, misunderstood role in the global energy system. One of the most significant advantages of hydrogen is that it is very efficient, approximately three times more efficient than gasoline.

One of the biggest challenges with hydrogen is obtaining it in its pure form.  Although Hydrogen is a green fuel during its usage, cracking hydrogen from its compound form requires a large amount of energy. At the current time, around 84% of the world’s energy is still derived from fossil fuels. This results in greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants which lessen the overall environmental benefits of hydrogen power. There is also still the issue of safely storing and transporting this volatile element. There are however many schemes and government directives that are pushing for more and more renewable energy as well as ongoing projects within various companies to develop safer ways of transporting and using hydrogen. Along with a greener energy source, we are also able to produce hydrogen from biological hydrogen production, a process where carbohydrate-rich and non-toxic raw materials are broken down by anaerobic and photosynthetic microorganisms, producing hydrogen as a byproduct of this process.

Hydrogen as a form of energy carrier is not new,  powering the first internal combustion engines over 200 years ago and becoming a fundamental part of the refining industry. It has some positive benefits being light, storable, energy-dense and only having water as a by-product. Hydrogen could be the key to unlocking a carbon-neutral future. However, for this to happen it needs to be adopted into the larger industries and sectors where fossil fuels and nuclear energy are currently being used such as transport, buildings and power generation.

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