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Hydrogen: The Fuel Of The Future?

2121 words - 8 pages

Hydrogen: the Fuel of the Future?

The Problem:

For years, United States citizens have been using natural gases and oils to power their cars. While doing so we have also been polluting our environment, making ourselves dependant on other regions of the world, and depleting our oil reserves. Rory Sporrows of “Geographical” wrote, “The car is responsible for combusting eight million barrels of oil every day, contributing to nearly a quarter of total global greenhouse emissions and causing major increases in bronchial diseases like asthma and emphysema.” (2001) Oil is not a renewable resource. One day it will run out. The graph to the left depicts that in these times in which we should be conserving what we have; we are doing exactly the opposite. Although the United States makes up only five percent of the worlds population, it consumes more than twenty-six percent of the world’s oil. And if we let our situation get to the point that we run out of oil, our average internal combustion, gasoline engines will no longer work. We will be forced to turn to alternative means of power.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells:

There are many alternative means of power that have been suggested: solar, wind, hydro, and hydrogen fuel cells to name a few of the more popular ideas. The focus of this research paper is hydrogen fuel cells.

For hydrogen fuel cells to work the process requires pure hydrogen. However, hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, pure hydrogen doesn’t occur naturally anywhere on earth. We have to refine it ourselves.

Water can be split into separate parts through a process called reverse electrolysis. Water or H2O, seen in the diagram to the right, can be decompressed into free-floating hydrogen (H) atoms and oxygen (O2) molecules. This is currently the only reliable way of acquiring pure hydrogen.

There are other ways, which at the time have just been proven to work. They have potential to produce hydrogen without using any electricity. Scientists for the past sixty years have known that a certain kind of algae, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, produces trace amounts of hydrogen gas. Tasios Malis, a professor at the University of California, and his colleagues have figured out that by starving the algae of sulphur the hydrogen production increases by almost four hundred percent. The algae plant can sustain a four-day period of this starved state, but then must be revitalized. The algae can be cycled between a recuperated and sulphur-starved state several times. Malis also estimated that, once optimized, a square meter pond of the algae could produce up to twenty-five grams of hydrogen per day, enough to power a mid size, fuel cell car about three kilometers or just less than two miles (Baulch, 2001). It’s interesting but, for the most part, unlikely for application.

When the pure hydrogen, shown on the left side of the diagram to the left, is administered into the hydrogen fuel cell it is passed over an...

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