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Hydrogen is the simplest, lightest element in the universe, but its energy content is the highest per unit of weight of any fuel (52,000 BTUs/pound). It is made up of a single proton with one electron. Because of its simplicity, it is believed by some that hydrogen is the root of all elements. While hydrogen always exists in conjunction with other elements, such as in water (H 2 O), it must be separated from these elements and is therefore considered an energy carrier, as opposed to an energy source.

When hydrogen escapes into the atmosphere, it is so light that it scatters immediately upward in the air (it's 14 times lighter than air). This means that a hydrogen spill won't pool on the ground, pollute groundwater, or soak into clothing—it removes itself!

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, making up more that 90% of all matter. On Earth, it is the third most abundant element in the Earth's surface, found in water and all organic matter.

In its normal gaseous state, hydrogen is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and is nontoxic, which makes it different from every other common fuel we use.

Hydrogen burns readily with oxygen, releasing considerable energy as heat and producing only water as exhaust. When hydrogen burns in air (which is mostly nitrogen), some oxides of nitrogen (NOx, contributors to smog and acid rain) can be formed, but much fewer pollutants are formed than when normal hydrocarbon fuels such as gasoline and diesel are burned. Because no carbon is involved, using hydrogen fuel eliminates carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and does not contribute to global warming.

Hydrogen is less flammable than gasoline. The self-ignition temperature of hydrogen is 550 degrees Celsius. Gasoline varies from 228-501 degrees Celsius, depending on the grade. When the Hindenburg burned, it took some time before the hydrogen bags were ignited. Hydrogen emits only one-tenth the radiant heat of a hydrocarbon fire. Victims are not generally burned by hydrogen unless they are actually in the flame, nor are they choked by smoke

Hydrogen disperses quickly. Being the lightest element (fifteen times lighter than air), hydrogen rises and spreads out quickly in the atmosphere. So when a leak occurs, the hydrogen gas quickly becomes so sparse that it cannot burn. Even when ignited, hydrogen burns upward, and is quickly consumed, as shown in the Hindenburg picture. By contrast, materials such as gasoline and diesel vapors, as well as natural gas are heavier than air, and will not disperse, remaining a flammable threat for much longer.

Hydrogen is a non-toxic, naturally-occurring element in the atmosphere. By comparison, all petroleum fuels are asphyxiants, and are poisonous to humans.

Hydrogen combustion produces only water. When pure hydrogen is burned in pure oxygen, only pure water is produced. Granted, that's an ideal scenario, which doesn't occur outside of laboratories and the space shuttle. In any case, when a hydrogen engine burns, it actually cleans the ambient air, by completing combustion of the unburned hydrocarbons that surround us. Compared with the toxic compounds (carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and hydrogen sulfide) produced by petroleum fuels, the products of hydrogen burning are much safer

.Hydrogen can be stored safely. Tanks currently in use for storage of compressed hydrogen (similar to compressed natural gas tanks) have survived intact through testing by various means, including being shot with six rounds from a .357 magnum, detonating a stick of dynamite next to them, and subjecting them to fire at 1500 degrees F. Clearly, a typical gasoline tank wouldn't survive a single one of these tests.


Hydrogen is ideal for secondary energy, i.e., electricity. Hydrogen can be combusted directly, added to natural gas or gasoline to reduce emissions, or stored for use in fuel cells. Hydrogen fuel cells are currently used aboard the U.S. Space Shuttle Program to run all the electrical systems, and crewmembers are able to drink the sterile water that is a byproduct of fuel cell use. At present, NASA is the largest user of hydrogen power in the U.S.; other common venues for hydrogen use at present are chemical production, petroleum refining, metals treating, and electrical applications.

A common method of hydrogen procurement is through electrolysis of water. This method uses electricity derived from any fuel (including renewables) to split water into its component parts of hydrogen (H 2 ) and oxygen (O)

Hydrogen has the potential to permanently displace oil and other fossil fuels on a worldwide basis, and its use can increase national security by ending the U.S.' reliance on imported oil. It produces no greenhouse gasses and can be produced using clean, renewable sources of electricity to positively impact national security, the environment, and public health.

The technology is now available to begin converting from a petroleum-based economy to a hydrogen-based economy.

Converting to the hydrogen economy is a two-step process. First, a transition process will happen when both conventional fuels and hydrogen will be available and used, for example, in the same internal combustion engine.

The following sources were used for this article:
Research by Addison Bain, NASA Investigator into the Hindenburg disaster.
McAlister, Roy. The Philosopher Mechanic.
Cox, Jack. "Will Hydrogen Bomb?" The Denver Post. April 5, 2000.
The Consumer Energy Cuncil of America