Hydrogen is an extremely valuable material.
Hydrogen can be used to separate crude oil into products such as petrol and jet fuel. We can add and take away from Hydrogen to produce useful by-products. And we can use it as a cleaner replacement for fossil fuels.
All these different uses make hydrogen a big hope for future low carbon energy needs in many different areas. But first of all…
HOW DO WE GET HYDROGEN?
Hydrogen is the most abundant gas in the universe. Here it is found deep in the Earth’s crust and elements, like water, that we have to separate it from.
Electricity can separate water into hydrogen and oxygen, in effect turning electrical energy into chemical energy. This is carried out using electrolysis. To keep hydrogen production as clean as possible, electricity produced by renewable or nuclear energy is preferable.
Steam methane reforming
This is the most common way we currently produce hydrogen. Methane (the main element in natural gas) reacts with oxygen or water, to produce hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide can then be used to make synthetic limestone that can be used to make concrete.
Biomass materials can go through a process that produces hydrogen, which again when carbon capture is used, can result in very few emissions.
NOW WE KNOW HOW TO GET IT, WHAT CAN WE DO WITH IT?
Heating makes up to 85% of the energy we use at home, on keeping both ourselves, our food and our water as hot or cold as we need.
Gas is the most common energy source. Used for heating 84% of the homes in the UK, and used for cooking hobs in 61% of the homes.
Natural gas is the cleanest of the fossil fuels, but it still produces carbon dioxide when burned (combusted). So what if we could swap all that natural gas for hydrogen? Hydrogen does not give off any carbon dioxide when combusted, making it is a cleaner alternative to natural gas.
A major project in Leeds, called H21 Leeds City Gate, aims to see if they could make the switch to Hydrogen.
This will involve quite a lot of work changing the original metal pipes that transport the gas around the city, into plastic pipes that can handle hydrogen. As well as making sure the appliances are able to work with hydrogen rather than gas.
The changes that need to be made to the pipes is small compared to the time, money and effort saved by using the original pipe network underground. This work is already being carried out across the UK, separate from the Leeds project.
If this project works in Leeds, your city could be next!
Transport uses the most energy in the UK, so any changes made to this sector would make a huge difference.
Oil is the main source of energy used for transport, however electric transport is beginning to grow in popularity.
Hydrogen fuel cells produce electricity by reacting hydrogen (the fuel) with oxygen. This electricity then powers the motor to move the car (or bus, or lorry, or train!)
Hydrogen does not produce any carbon dioxide when combusted, while diesel and petrol do. In fact, the only waste product of using hydrogen fuel cells in transport is water!
Changing our transport from fossils fuels to hydrogen fuel would reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. This would have a positive effect on air pollution levels too, which can seriously affect health.
Find out more about air pollution here.