When produced with renewable energy and used in fuel cell vehicles, hydrogen holds the potential for virtually pollution-free transportation – a revolutionary step forward in the transportation sector.
Hydrogen (H2) is the simplest and most abundant element in the universe. It exists in water, hydrocarbons (such as methane), and organic matter. Hydrogen fuel is a colorless, odorless gas at ambient temperature and atmospheric pressure. In nature hydrogen bonds with other elements, therefore pure hydrogen gas must be produced by separating it from other compounds. Depending on the source, hydrogen fuel may contain low levels of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. Efficiently producing hydrogen from these compounds is one of the challenges of using hydrogen as a fuel.
The production of hydrogen fuel requires energy. Hydrogen can be produced using excess electricity from renewable resources. The hydrogen can be stored and used later, when electricity demand is at its peak. Or, the stored hydrogen can be used as a transportation fuel. There are several ways to produce hydrogen:
Natural Gas Reforming: Synthesis gas, a mixture of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and a small amount of carbon dioxide, is created by reacting natural gas with high-temperature steam or by partial oxidation. The carbon monoxide is reacted with water to produce additional hydrogen. This method is the cheapest, most efficient, and most common for producing hydrogen.
Renewable Electrolysis: An electric current generated by renewable energy technologies, such as wind or solar, splits water into hydrogen and oxygen.
Gasification: Coal or biomass is reacted with high-temperature steam and oxygen in a pressurized gasifier and converted into gaseous components. The resulting synthesis gas contains hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which is reacted with steam to produce more hydrogen.
Renewable Liquid Reforming: Renewable liquid fuels, such as ethanol, are reacted with high-temperature steam to produce hydrogen near the point of end use.
Fermentation: Biomass is converted into sugar-rich feedstocks that can be fermented to produce hydrogen.
The hydrogen market has great potential for transportation applications, and is being explored for use in internal combustion engines (ICE) and fuel cell electric vehicles. The interest in hydrogen as an alternative transportation fuel stems from its clean-burning qualities, its domestic production from a variety of resources, and its potential for high efficiency in fuel cell vehicles – the energy in 2.2 lb (1 kg) of hydrogen gas is about the same as the energy in 1 gallon of gasoline (6.1 lb).
Hydrogen fuel cells were invented in 1839 and have been powering scientific and government equipment since, including the space shuttles in the Gemini and Apollo space missions. Although not widely used today as a transportation fuel, this new fuel technology is gaining momentum in the light-duty vehicle market, with several prototype vehicles from various automakers. Government and industry research and development are continuing working toward the goal of clean, economical, and safe hydrogen production and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles that can satisfy mass market demand.
Expanded use of hydrogen as an energy source in this country could help address energy security, global climate change, and air quality concerns. Fuel cells are an important enabling technology for the hydrogen future and have the potential to revolutionize the way we power our nation, offering cleaner, more efficient alternatives to the combustion of gasoline and other fossil fuels. Hydrogen’s main benefits are: stronger national security, reduced greenhouse gas emissions (it produces only nitrogen oxides when burned in ICEs), improved air quality, and increased energy efficiency.
There are still barriers to fuel cell vehicles powered by hydrogen. Both the fuel and the vehicles are expensive to produce. Additionally, on a volumetric basis, the energy density of hydrogen is low under ambient conditions. This has lead to issues with storage, towing capacity and vehicle performance. As a result of these difficulties, vehicle availability and refueling infrastructure is limited. However, several vehicle manufactures have prototype vehicles and are beginning to shift towards a new generation of advanced technology vehicles that include new mass market fuel cell vehicles.
Hydrogen Fueling Stations
Utah Fueling Stations - Currently there are no hydrogen fueling stations in the State of Utah
National Fueling Stations
UCCC Hydrogen Vehicle Page
Alternative Fuel Data Center - Hydrogen
U.S. Dept. of Energy Hydrogen Program
U.S. Dept. of Energy - EERE Fuel Cell Technology
U.S. Dept. of Energy Hydrogen, Fuel Cells & Infrastructure Technologies Program
FuelEconomy.Gov - Hydrogen
Hydrogen Fuel Cells - Hydrogen Basics
Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Energy Association