Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. Here on Earth, you can find it as a major component in water, oil, natural gas, and all living matter. Hydrogen fuel technology could revolutionize how we move, store, and deliver energy.
Like electricity, hydrogen stores and carries energy produced from other sources. It can be combined with oxygen in a fuel cell to produce an electric current. The only by-product of this process is water vapour, making hydrogen a clean alternative to fossil fuels.
Since pure hydrogen gas doesn’t occur naturally on Earth, we must first separate it from other elements in order to use it as fuel. The most common method of creating hydrogen is a process called steam reformation. By causing a reaction between steam and hydrocarbon fuel (like natural gas), we can ‘split’ the hydrogen off and store it in pressurized tanks. However, steam reformation results in carbon dioxide, so hydrogen produced using steam reformation is not clean energy.
Another way to produce hydrogen is electrolysis. This process uses an electrical current to break the chemical bond between the hydrogen and oxygen atoms in water. Electrolysis does not provide any emissions aside from hydrogen and oxygen, and the electricity used can come from renewable sources like wind or solar energy.
Hydrogen fuel plays an increasingly important rule in Canada’s renewable energy sector. In 2016, the industry employed 1,785 people and generated $220 million in revenue.
British Columbia has become a hub for hydrogen fuel facilities, including the one-of-a-kind Mercedes Benz automated fuel cell production facility. It is also the first province to provide incentives for buying or leasing hydrogen-powered vehicles.
Hydro fuel cells are flexible in size and power density. Small cells are used in devices like laptops and cell phones, while larger hydrogen fuel cells can provide emergency power in buildings or areas that are off-the-grid.
One of the most promising areas of development is the use of hydrogen as fuel for vehicles. Hydrogen fuel cells are three times more efficient than internal combustion engines that run on gasoline. There are already more than 500 hydrogen-powered vehicles in the United States, including zero-emission electric busses.