The world has come to a crossroads. In the five billion years that the planet has existed, the natural resources that move us from place to place are disappearing. Take that great substance called oil. The oil that we use today came from plants and animals from around 300 million years ago (Kidzworld.com). What does that mean to us? The simple fact that the fuel we consume will run out. The petroleum companies in the world today are researching and developing new and cleaner ways to help transport the world. Among the lists of fuels that are being developed is Hydrogen. Hydrogen is considered a renewable source and will prevent economic catastrophe around the world. Governments around the world see this and are supporting this research. The United States government needs to support the use of Hydrogen as the primary fuel for the transportation world to help reduce the amount of natural resources that are swiftly dwindling.
Hydrogen is the third most abundant element in the world. This element is lighter than air and can be found in ninety percent of all organic material in the world. The most identifiable resource that contains hydrogen is water. Seventy percent of the Earth is covered in water. The break down of water is one oxygen atom attached to two hydrogen atoms (USGS.gov). With the amount of water that covers the planet, I believe there is plenty of hydrogen to go around. Utilizing water electrolysis, you can split water and obtain the hydrogen for production. This process exists and is being researched for large scale production for transportation fuel.
This fuel has been used in the past. History shows that this fuel can be used for transportation and can be beneficial to us all. The Hindenburg and all blimps used hydrogen to keep the ships off of the ground. In 1937 the Hindenburg caught fire and crashed killing 35 people. It is a sad and tragic event, but the investigation showed that hydrogen was not the cause of the disaster. The outer skin was coated with a metallic paint and was set on fire by lightning. The hydrogen filled bags in the blimp discharged and escaped into the air above the incident. Although not the reason, this put hydrogen as a resourceful fuel on the back burner (Hydrogen Now). Even today when someone discuses the use of hydrogen as a fuel, the Hindenburg is mentioned in the debate. Hydrogen is combustible, but it does not stop the use of it. Chevron uses one million kilograms a day for industrial use (Chevron.com). Children in school learn about hydrogen through science experiments in physical science. A soda bottle filled with hydrogen is lit with a match and boom! The hydrogen combusted and immediately evaporated into the air.
As stated before, hydrogen is lighter than air and it can escape into the atmosphere. If we compare this with gasoline, hydrogen shows that it is a better form of fuel. Gasoline can spill out and contaminate the ground water and hurt eco-systems. Other forms of fuel have caused problems in the past that have devastated the environment. Crude oil that is manufactured for all the fuels we use today have destroyed ocean life and the animals that depend on the food from the oceans. Propane fuel is highly combustible and is transported in tanker cars all across the country. Many accidents involving propane has had tragic lose of life and property. Hydrogen can be safely transported in tankers on the road and on the oceans. If a tanker of hydrogen runs aground and releases the fuel, there will be no environmental impact on the eco-systems. I know I repeat myself, but the fuel will evaporate into the air. I repeat this because it is important for everyone to know that it will not contaminate the ground or kill the wildlife by running off into the streams and into the oceans. So what are the ill effects on the Earth when using hydrogen as a fuel?
Hydrogen used as a fuel will reduce emissions that go into our atmosphere. However there are effects on the planet that can be damaging. As we drive down the road feeling good about saving the planet in our new hydrogen fuel car, the hydrogen emissions are leaking out. Yes it is water, but there are gases evaporating into the atmosphere. The gases can cause moisture to form in the atmosphere where it is typically dry. This in turn can cause colder days and more clouds. Now compared to the hot days we are having that doesn't sound so bad, but it can reflect the radiation, that typically makes its way to warm the Earth, back into space and the cooler days will last longer (Perkins 2003).
Hydrogen is still being produced using the fossil fuels. Coal fired plants are used to operate the machines that produce hydrogen (energy.gov). This technique is being researched to design different ways to produce hydrogen. Other sources of energy creating devices that can be used are solar power, wind power and water. These processes can eliminate more emissions that contribute to global warming. Another source to operate machinery to produce hydrogen is geo-thermal energy. This source is tapped from the Earth itself and used to power homes and heat them as well. As our technology expands into more resourceful ways to develop fuels for our homes and transportation sources, other alternative fuels are being developed.
Alternative fuels have been in existence for quite some time. People have developed fuels from all different sources and all have proven to be effective, but production on a large scale would not be feasible. Used vegetable oil removed from restaurants has been converted to fuel and some people have taken this on and developed a system for their vehicles to operate. The biggest alternative fuel to hit the world recently and in the past is Ethanol. Ethanol has been used in vehicles since the 1900's. The Model T vehicle was developed to use gasoline or pure alcohol (e85.whipnet.net). This flexible fuel can be a great development for the future. The cost of using ethanol as a fuel can have more adverse effects on the planet than using hydrogen.
Ethanol is grain alcohol made from corn. This corn has to be grown and taken care of. As the corn grows, insects can invade and destroy the crops. To resolve this issue, pesticides are used to kill the insects. The pesticides have to be mixed with water and care has to be taken not to over-spray and have run-off of this poisonous liquid. This in turn can contaminate the ground water, causing problems with the water sources we use for drinking and bathing. Another concern is fertilizing the crop. This is good for crops, but again it can have ill-effects on the planet. Fertilizer contains many different chemicals that can, just like pesticides, contaminate our water resources. We also have to deal with drought and the varying weather patterns that can affect the crop. In turn, we will use more water to grow the crops and possibly contaminate our sources of water. Using hydrogen as a fuel source will not cause this to happen. We will use the water we drink to power our cars and no contaminates will reach these sources. The exhaust will travel back to its source and be recycled back into hydrogen.
In the mid 1950's, Ford was dabbling with the idea of a nuclear powered car. This car called the Ford Nucelon was cast only to a 3/8 scale model and never was produced. Engineers at Ford expected the car to run for five thousand miles before being recharged (Media.Ford.com). As we all know, this never happened, but if we could compare this thought with hydrogen. I need not say the effects of a possible accident with this nuclear powered car.
In the recent past, most of the auto makers have developed the Hybrid vehicle. This is possibly one of the best changes that have occurred to benefit the planet. Hybrids run off electricity and reduce the emissions produced. Unfortunately; petroleum fuel is still used to power this type of vehicle. Of course this advantage pays off when the batteries of the vehicle have discharged and there is no location to re-charge them. Hybrid vehicles were first developed in compact cars and recently the automaker Chevrolet has introduced the full size SUV in a hybrid form (Chevy.com/hybrid). This is a big jump in the technology developed for hybrid vehicles.
So we have reached a point in time to see why hybrids are not so popular. Hybrids do not have the power that most people are used to. Most hybrid vehicles are equipped with engines that are mainly electric and do not carry that combustion to deliver the performance we expect in vehicles. It is true that you can receive discounts and tax breaks for owning a hybrid, but you pay that when you purchase the vehicles. The BMW 7 hydrogen vehicle can accelerate from 0-62 in 9.5 seconds. This vehicle still has the power as a regular fueled vehicle (Edmunds.com). Although this vehicle still runs on petroleum also, it still has the get up and go power when run on hydrogen.
Most of the alternative fuels that we have discussed have all shown that the fuels are possible and can take a hold of the transportation world. So why should we use hydrogen as the alternative fuel and none other? We have seen what some of the effects can be on the planet with using other alternative fuels as well as using hydrogen. Hydrogen is a clean fuel and does not use combustion to drive a vehicle. When turned into a liquid state, the pressure on the fuel tank forces the fuel into the motor and makes it operate. This will rid the vehicle of fuel injected parts for the engine. The fuel tank is double stainless steel construction to protect the fuel from damage and leaks. BMW has tested this tank in crash ratings and has even tested the tank by being struck by gunfire (Edmunds.com). Hydrogen turns into a liquid state at -253 degrees centigrade and the storage tank on the vehicle has been designed with a special insulation to keep the temperature at that level. BMW states that the insulation was calculated to keep a block of ice frozen for thirteen years (Edmunds.com). At the time hydrogen is being developed and technology is finding more effective ways to produce this element into a fuel, we need to ask what the governments are doing to make this happen.
The presidential State of the Union Address in 2003 made history. President George W. Bush announced that 1.2 billion would be spent to start the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative. This is a big step for the United States to fund a research project that will affect millions of lives. The reason for this switch was to reduce the dependency on foreign oil. With the increase of traffic on our highways and the high demand for oil, the United States must import foreign oil. This initiative will help decrease the expenses for fuel cell cars and put them on the road by 2020. We are seeing the prototypes being test driven now and will possibly see more in the near future. Not only will this benefit the people, but it will help the planet. The development of hydrogen as a fuel source will reduce the greenhouse emissions by 500 million metric tons of carbon a year. This can also be reduced even more when using this fuel for additional uses such as heating homes and businesses (hydrogen.energy.com).
On April 12, 2007 the Department of Energy announced that they are providing 8.2 million dollars to construct and operate storage facilities for hydrogen. These storage facilities will be placed throughout the country for research and development (hydrogen.gov). This shows that the United States government has taken some sort of initiative to focus on research and development to further the technology to produce hydrogen.
In Germany, the automaker BMW has developed the BMW7 hydrogen. Information on this vehicle has previously been stated. The German embassy has teamed up with the automaker to promote the use of hydrogen as the fuel of the future. Germany and the United States have agreed to work together to develop and create zero emissions vehicles for a cleaner planet (germany.info). Canada has developed a road map to carry the country to the forefront of hydrogen technology. The government has established relationships with manufacturing companies to research and develop systems and procedures to produce and store hydrogen (Canadian Fuel cell). Australia has joined in the research to develop hydrogen as a fuel and to help the world reduce its' emissions. The governments around the world are truly looking into this situation that has become critical for us all. In the future the rest of the world will fall in line and join the others in the fight to stop global warming. Iceland is probably the one place that the world needs to get in touch with to find out what it takes to produce hydrogen vehicles. According to a report from CNN, there are already public buses running off of hydrogen (CNN.com, 2007).
So what about you? With the technology that is providing us with this renewable source, will you be willing to let go of your favorite car and drive off into the sunset in a hydrogen powered vehicle? We have demonstrated that hydrogen started out as being used in transportation only to be hidden with the tragedy of the Hindenburg. It was used in the Model T manufactured in the 1900's. So why has it been hidden all this long only to be brought to the forefront now? With time and technology we will be able to produce and develop better running cars, our homes will be heated, and the world will be much greener.