Hydrogen, a multi-talent.
Hydrogen is not only the most common element in the universe, it's also the ideal fuel of the future.
Hydrogen as an element
Hydrogen can be used as an energy store, to help solve three major problems of our time: climate change, dependence on imported energy and finite fossil fuel reserves. Hydrogen is not only the lightest element we know. It is easily the most abundant element in the Universe. At the same time it has an extremely high energy density: one kilogramme of hydrogen contains about three times as much energy as one kilogramme of oil. High-energy, low-weight, easy to store and transport – this is what makes hydrogen the idea fuel of the future.
Hydrogen is a colourless, odourless, tasteless gas. Its atoms consist of only one proton and one electron. On Earth it is only found in chemical compounds, i.e. as water, as part of organic compounds and in hydrocarbons (natural oil, gas, coal, biomass, etc.). Energy can be used, however, to release hydrogen from a compound. On a large industrial scale, most hydrogen is produced through the steam reforming of natural gas. To avoid resulting CO2 emissions, and counter the problem of dwindling fossil resources, various renewable hydrogen production techniques can be used – including electrolysis, which splits water into its component parts of hydrogen and oxygen.
Hydrogen-powered vehicles are every bit as safe as conventional vehicles. The technology and materials used in hydrogen vehicles and refuelling stations do, however, have to meet extremely stringent requirements, as demonstrated by a number of standards institutes including the German TÜV in various procedures and crash tests conducted with hydrogen vehicles. The high volatility of hydrogen is an advantage, since it dissipates, mixing rapidly with the ambient air and thus eliminating the hazard.
Many people associate hydrogen with the Hindenburg disaster, when the airship exploded and crashed when landing in Lakehurst, USA, in 1937. It was not in fact the hydrogen that was responsible for the disaster though, but the coating used on the airship’s skin. Hydrogen will make road traffic safer. The combination of hydrogen’s combustion and diffusion properties will minimise danger in the case of fire, compared for instance with a fire involving petrol. Click here to see a comparison of fires involving hydrogen and petrol. The risk of explosion is also significantly lower with hydrogen than with petrol. In the air it is de facto impossible to get hydrogen to explode.
The sudden release of larger quantities of hydrogen is extremely unlikely when modern tanks are used in which compressed hydrogen is stored at a pressure of 700 bar. Should a pipe break, the inner pressure regulator will ensure that hydrogen is released very gradually: It can then burn with an almost invisible flame and without generating any significant heat. Hydrogen is not toxic or corrosive, is odourless and not explosive. It does not pollute water resources, nor resist degradation, and it is not carcinogenic.back