One hears the word "hydrogen" today and thinks of the future. Research being conducted around the world explores the possibility of using this simple element to generate energy. Hydrogen is abundant and its utilization as an energy source, many say, would not be harmful to the environment like non-renewable fuels are.
Hydrogen is a chemical element with one atom. At room temperature it is an inflammable, colorless, odorless gas. It is also the most plentiful chemical element in the universe, and forms part of a multitude of substances, including water.
Its abundance, which stands in contrast to the finite amounts of fossil fuels available in the world, and its environmental qualities are generating a great deal of excitement about hydrogen's potential, which in turn creates an enormous amount of information available on the Internet, ranging from academic conferences to the pioneering companies in the sector.
Although hydrogen is utilized as a fuel for space travel, new studies are seeking ways to extend its use to other areas. Because hydrogen can be obtained from a broad range of sources, it could ultimately reduce the economic, political and environmental costs of energy-producing systems.
There are websites extolling hydrogen energy's environmental benefits, with claims that it does not produce pollution or consume natural resources. There are no byproducts or toxins associated with hydrogen energy production, say some specialized Internet sites.
Its use in carrying out modern-day activities as common as driving a car takes place through a special fuel cell, similar to a battery, though it does not "lose its charge", but continues functioning through a cold combustion process based onů you guessed it, hydrogen.
"A fuel cell consists of two electrodes sandwiched around an electrolyte. Oxygen passes over one electrode and hydrogen over the other, generating electricity, water and heat," says one of the principal sources of information on this topic, Fuelcells.org.
A wide array of actors are participating in the search for ways to make hydrogen use economically viable, including oil companies and automobile manufacturers. One of the biggest challenges is to find a way to separate this element from other substances at a cost that would allow its use on a major scale. It must also be proved that massive use of hydrogen fuel is safe for the environment and human health.
In order to bring to fruition the promise of this "petroleum of the future" will require vast investments, which in the United States alone should reach 100 billion dollars, according to a report by the Worldwatch Institute.
Hydrogen: never-ending fuel source
Hydrogen fueled cars
Wired: How Hydrogen Can Save America
Worldwatch Institute: Hydrogen
E-magazine: Jeremy Rifkin on the hydrogen economy
How the hydrogen economy works
AlterNet.org: A Hydrogen Economy Is a Bad Idea
U.S. National Hydrogen Association
What is hydrogen?