Hydrogen is an incredibly energy rich fuel. When Hydrogen is mixed with oxygen, a large amount of energy is released and the only waste is pure water.
The problem for many years has been that virtually all the hydrogen on earth is locked up as water. For a long time, it has been known that by running a current through water you can split the oxygen and hydrogen. Unfortunately, this process is incredibly energy intensive. Indeed it takes more energy than it gives.
While this is fine, if the energy is not created in a clean way, it defeats the point.
The bigger problem with all this, is that if the electricity is simply put in a battery the car can be driven far further than by running the car on hydrogen after splitting water. The advantage of hydrogen, is the way that cars can be refuelled, much in the same way that you would refuel a petrol or diesel car. Of course, in order to cover the cost of splitting the hydrogen, the cost would be more than we currently pay.
In other words, why go to the huge expense and complexity to make hydrogen and create an entire transport and delivery hub worldwide for cars, when the environmental costs are higher anyway. Many people have tried to get their hydrogen from fossil fuels, and indeed this is where most hydrogen comes from. The problem here, is that if you need fossil fuels, you are not improving the environment.
HOWEVER PERHAPS CHANGE IS COMING?
A research team from Trinity college Dublin are currently “fine tuning” a new method. Rather than using huge amounts of electricity, the same results can be reached by using a group of elements as catalysts.
Such catalysts are not new. Ruthenium or iridium are both known to have this property. Unfortunately being rare, they are very expensive, and therefore unacceptable to be used in large quantities (as would be required).
Using advanced computing and quantum chemical modelling they came up with combinations of other cheaper metals that could do the job. So far 9 potential materials have been identified, in particular 3 metals – iron manganese and chromium.
This work is not complete, but it is thought that it could be finished within the next 2 years.
What would this hydrogen be used for? Well lets start with something simple. With the incredibly impressive progress made with batteries, short haul flights are likely to be able to go fully electric within the next few decades. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about long distance flights. Airbus has designed concept planes, which could use this fuel, and its only biproduct is water.