A simple chemical element with the symbol H, hydrogen is the lightest element in the periodic table, the most abundant element in the universe, and an element that carries the potential to revolutionize the Nation’s energy use.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, hydrogen can be used across multiple sectors to enable zero or near-zero emissions in other chemical and industrial processes, integrated clean energy systems, and transportation. Emerging hydrogen markets within these sectors include data centers, ports, steel manufacturing, and medium- and heavy-duty trucks.
One way to use hydrogen to supply energy is through the use of a fuel cell. A fuel cell is an electrochemical device that converts the chemical energy of hydrogen into electrical energy, with only water and heat as byproducts. Fuel cells can power a range of applications, from cars and buses to homes and businesses.
Hydrogen can also been burned, including as a fuel for gas power plants (including in formats blending hydrogen with methane to reduce emissions), or to create heat in industrial processes. When hydrogen is burned, the only byproduct is water, making it a clean and renewable fuel source. Some see Hydrogen as the key to decarbonizing heavy transportation including trucking, shipping, and aircraft.
Hydrogen can also be used as a feedstock to produce a range of industrial chemicals, including ammonia and methanol, which are used in the production of fertilizers, plastics, and other products.
One of the challenges with using hydrogen as a fuel source is that it bonds easily and is therefore not found naturally in large quantities on Earth. Because it is lighter than air, hydrogen that has not bonded molecularly will rise into the atmosphere.
For human use, it must be produced through various industrial methods, such as steam reforming of methane (natural gas – CH4) which emits carbon, or the electrolysis of water (H2O), which yields two Hydrogen molecules and one Oxygen molecule when split.
The production of hydrogen can be energy-intensive and may rely on fossil fuels, which can limit the environmental benefits and increase the costs of producing hydrogen and using hydrogen as a fuel source. A solution to this limitation is to use renewable energy to power hydrogen production and major projects are development around the world to use renewable energy to power production and distribution of this clean burning, incredibly abundant fuel source. Learn more about hydrogen production.