The use of hydrogen as a fuel source is the basic principle behind
the idea of a "hydrogen economy". The term itself was
first used by John Bockris during a presentation at the General
Motors Technical Center in 1970.
Proponents of this system suggest that
hydrogen can be used as a fuel source for land and water
vehicles, as well as an energy source for buildings and
portable electronic devices.
One of the more compelling benefits of using hydrogen as a fuel
source is that it can replace the use of fossil fuel. It is now
widely acknowledged that fossil fuel when used in internal combustion
engines and turbines is largely responsible for channeling greenhouse
gases and various other pollutants into the air. With the use
of hydrogen as a fuel source for such engines, it is expected
that these emissions would be greatly reduced.
Another advantage of hydrogen as a fuel source is that it can
be used in fuel cells as well. Such cells produce energy more
efficiently than internal combustion engines
at least in
theory. In actual practice, fuel cells are more costly to manufacture
than conventional engines, although the introduction of new technologies
and production methods are making them less expensive to build.
The hydrogen economy is not without its own drawbacks to be sure,
with its detractors pointing to the fact that it requires about
2.5 times as much energy to produce a hydrogen fuel cell as it
produces in its lifespan.
Virtually all fuel cells can be adapted to use pure hydrogen,
while some will work only with hydrocarbon fuels. In any case,
it is expected that such cells can be used by large power plants
when fuel cell production becomes more cost-effective.
Hydrogen gas as a fuel source can be classified into two categories:
technical grade and commercial grade. Technical grade is virtually
pure, and this makes it ideally suited for use in fuel cells,
since the presence of impurities may cause a reduction in the
lifespan of these cells. Commercial grade hydrogen on the other
hand, contains carbon and sulfur, making them better suited to
The concept of the hydrogen economy was initially focused on
the use of fuel cells as an energy source for electric cars. While
hydrogen fuel cells provide less energy relative to their weight,
they do provide considerably more energy than conventional batteries
that use other fuel sources.
This makes fuel cells more efficient than internal combustion
engines, and they have the further benefit of releasing virtually
zero emissions into the air. With the inevitable rise in cost
of hydrocarbon fuels-a trend that we are already seeing today-hydrogen-based
fuel cells will become a much more economically viable alterative.
And with the various issues associated with the continued use
of hydrocarbon fuels-their rapidly dwindling supply and atmospheric
emissions being some of the more pressing ones-hydrogen-based
fuel cells may just prove to be the most viable energy sources
for the future.