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Hydrogen is a chemical element with symbol H and atomic number 1. It is the simplest, most abundant and lightest element in the whole universe. Hydrogen constitutes about 75% of the universe mass (while some argues that hydrogen constitute 90% of the visible universe). At earth temperature and pressure (say when found in our living environment temperature and pressure), hydrogen is most commonly identified as a colourless, tasteless, non toxic, highly flammable and odourless diatomic gas (H2). Hydrogen gas is rarely found alone in nature because it is usually bonded with other elements. For instance hydrogen can be found in water (H2O).

Hydrogen was first recognised as an element by Henry Cavendish in 1766, but was discovered long before and documented by Robert Boyle in 1671. Robert Boyle produced hydrogen during his experimentation with iron and acids.

Hydrogen is mostly known to human being as a raw fuel. Most stars as we know them burn hydrogen to produce energy, and therefore move in a given direction. One of the planet that uses hydrogen abundantly is the Sun. Fortunately for us human being, hydrogen will supply the sun for another 5 billion years, enough for us to hopefully find a solution.

Hydrogen is used widely at a global level. It is a commercially important element as large quantities of hydrogen are combined with other elements to form useful compositions. For instance hydrogen is mixed with nitrogen to produce ammonia (NH3) through the Haber process. Hydrogen is also added to many other compounds such as fats and oils, e.g., peanut oil. The process of adding hydrogen to fats or oil is called hydrogenation. Further to this, hydrogen can also be liquefied. In its liquid state, it is used in the study of superconductors. At times liquid hydrogen is combined with liquid oxygen to make a rocket fuel, such as space rockets.

In summary, hydrogen combines with many other elements to form different types of compounds such as water (H2O), ammonia (NH3), hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and hydrochloric acid (HCl), table sugar (C12H22O11), methane (CH4).

The majority of Hydrogen currently produced worldwide uses steam reformation of natural gas and electrolysis of water. Everyone can produce hydrogen in their own home using water electrolysis (home electrolysis is not recommended if you are not properly trained on hydrogen safety – get trained on hydrogen safety here). Water electrolysis is simply a means to split up water into its two gas constituents that is hydrogen and oxygen. To split water, we use a device called electrolyzer. An electrolyser split hydrogen from oxygen by sending an electrical current between two electrodes (metallic bars). The electrodes are put into the water without touching each other. When the current flows between the two electrodes, hydrogen and oxygen splits up. Hydrogen will be generated onto one electrode while oxygen will be generated onto the other electrode bar.

One has to remember that each hydrogen electrolyser may need a hydrogen compressor. The role of the hydrogen compressor is to compress the hydrogen gas into a hydrogen storage system at a given pressure such as 200 bar, 350 bar, 400 bar, 700 bar and others. Many hydrogen electrolyser also produces hydrogen at high pressure such as 10 bar, 12 bar, 30 bar and 75 bar.

Hydrogen Safety, Storage & Handling:

Hydrogen, in gaseous form, is widely stored in Hydrogen high pressure storage cylinders, tubes or tube trailers. In liquid form, Hydrogen is mainly stored at the consumer site in cryogenic liquid tank or cylinders. These liquid Hydrogen tanks are highly insulated and specifically designed to reduce evaporation of the Hydrogen gas. Liquid Hydrogen is dangerous and therefore only trained individuals must handle it with care. The handling of Hydrogen liquid gas is risky and therefore all precautions must be taken to avoid any accidents.

Hydrogen concentration in air detection unit is highly advisable. As a rule of thumb any Hydrogen system (H2 compressor, H2 electrolyser generator, H2 steam reformation system, etc) should be located in a highly ventilated area and use a hydrogen monitoring system. The H2 monitoring system will monitor the hydrogen in air concentration and if the set up threshold is reached, then the system is shut down and hydrogen vented in the air to make it inert.

To dispose Hydrogen gas from a pressurised Hydrogen vessel, one should vent the Hydrogen slowly to a well-ventilated outdoor location remote from personal work areas and building air intakes. Usually a Hydrogen pipe is used to direct Hydrogen to a safe venting place. As for liquid Hydrogen, first allow the H2 to evaporate. Liquid Hydrogen boils quickly, so there should not be issue to get it to transform to its gaseous form state.

Hydrogen as a fuel

Hydrogen gas is nowadays being used aggressively as a fuel for passenger vehicles and other transport systems. It can be used in fuel cells to power electric motors and combined with battery constitute a hybrid fuel cell battery electric vehicle. It can also be burned in an internal combustion engines (ICEs) such as the one used in our vehicles.

Hydrogen is seen as a green or pure fuel because H2 is an environmentally friendly fuel with no associated CO2 emission. As such hydrogen has the potential to dramatically reduce our dependence on imported oil as well as reduce the dangers associated with emissions.

Benefits of hydrogen

Hydrogen can be produced locally using a green source of energy such as a wind turbine or a solar photovoltaic system. As such it can increase a country’s energy security and reduce its dependence on hydrocarbon imports.

When burned or consummed hydrogen do not emits pollutants or greenhouse gases. It produces only nitrogen oxides (NOx) when burned in Hydrogen Internal Combustion Engines and even in ICE, NOx can be reduced to a minimum using special techniques.