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 Chapter 20: Hydrogen and Future Energy Sources

Picture of DaimlerChrysler Necar 4 - 1999

We learned in Chapter 8 that fossil fuels were formed before and during the time of the dinosaurs – when plants and animals died. Their decomposed remains gradually changed over the years to form coal, oil and natural gas. Fossil fuels took millions of years to make. We are using up the fuels formed more than 65 million years ago. They can't be renewed; they can't be made again. We can save fossil fuels by conserving and finding ways to harness energy from seemingly "endless sources," like the sun and the wind.

We can't use fossil fuels forever as they are a non-renewable and finite resource. Some people suggest that we should start using hydrogen.

Hydrogen is a colorless, odorless gas that accounts for 75 percent of the entire universe's mass. Hydrogen is found on Earth only in combination with other elements such as oxygen, carbon and nitrogen. To use hydrogen, it must be separated from these other elements.

Today, hydrogen is used primarily in ammonia manufacturing, petroleum refining and synthesis of methanol. It's also used in NASA's space program as fuel for the space shuttles, and in fuel cells that provide heat, electricity and drinking water for astronauts. Fuel cells are devices that directly convert hydrogen into electricity. In the future, hydrogen could be used to fuel vehicles (such as the DaimlerChrysler NeCar 4 shown in the picture to the right) and aircraft, and provide power for our homes and offices.

Hydrogen can be made from molecules called hydrocarbons by applying heat, a process known as "reforming" hydrogen. This process makes hydrogen from natural gas. An electrical current can also be used to separate water into its components of oxygen and hydrogen in a process called electrolysis. Some algae and bacteria, using sunlight as their energy source, give off hydrogen under certain conditions.

Hydrogen as a fuel is high in energy, yet a machine that burns pure hydrogen produces almost zero pollution. NASA has used liquid hydrogen since the 1970s to propel rockets and now the space shuttle into orbit. Hydrogen fuel cells power the shuttle's electrical systems, producing a clean by-product – pure water, which the crew drinks.

You can think of a fuel cell as a battery that is constantly replenished by adding fuel to it – it never loses its charge.

 Fuel Cell Uses
 Solar Power Satellites
 Other Ideas

Next – Conclusion

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