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Is Hydrogen A Gas?

hydrogen vehicles are less popular today

Hydrogen is a chemical element using the symbol H in the periodic table of elements, and its atomic number and atomic mass are both equal to 1.

With an atomic weight of only 1.00794, hydrogen is the lightest chemical element in the periodic table.

In normal temperature and pressure, hydrogen is a colorless, non-toxic, nonmetallic, odorless and tasteless gas with the molecular formula H2, which means that hydrogen is the least dense of all gases.

The hydrogen atom is the simplest because it contains only a positively charged proton that is relatively large, and a negatively charged electron.

Despite its simplicity, hydrogen is the most abundant element known today, representing about 75% of all the mass in the universe.

Hydrogen can be found in the Sun and most other stars, and in giant gaseous planets like Jupiter, Saturn, etc.

On Earth, hydrogen can be found in water, fossil fuels and living things, but very little as the element on its own.

How is Hydrogen Used?

During the petroleum (oil) refining process, hydrogen is used to remove sulfur from fuels. During this process, hydrogen combines with sulfur to produce a bad smelling gas (smells like rotten eggs) called hydrogen sulfide (H2S).

Large quantities of hydrogen are used to hydrogenate vegetable oils to form fats like margarine.

In the chemical industry, hydrogen is used to make ammonia (NH3) for agricultural fertlizer, and cyclohexanemethanol (C7H14O), which is used in the production of plastics and pharmaceuticals.

Hydrogen can be mixed with carbon dioxide to produce methane and water.

Is Hydrogen a Liquid or Gas?

Hydrogen is largely found on our planet in water, fossil fuels and living things, but very little as the element on its own.

To produce hydrogen in gaseous form we use today thermochemical processes such as natural gas reforming, electrolytic processes such as electrolysis of water, photolytic processes that use the sunlight to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, and biologic processes such as microbial conversion of biomass that use microorganisms to consume and digest biomass and release hydrogen.

To be stored in gaseous form, hydrogen is compressed and stored in high-pressure tanks.

However, to ship hydrogen on longer distances, we have to turn hydrogen from gaseous state into liquid state.

Hydrogen becomes a liquid only if we lower its temperature at normal pressure to 20.35 Kelvin (-252.8°C).

In liquid form, hydrogen can be stored and transported on medium to long distances. Transporting liquid hydrogen on long distances is quite costly (we have to maintain the cryogenic temperature of the hydrogen tank throughout the transport).

Hydrogen can be shipped in liquid form as a global commodity. The drawback of liquefaction is represented by the large amount of power consumed in the process to turn hydrogen from gaseous into liquid form.

Hydrogen can also be transported in the form of ammonia (NH3), but this also involves costs with the ammonia synthesis and reforming.

In gaseous form, hydrogen is similar to natural gas in terms of combustion. An explosion might be triggered by spark, heat or direct sunlight. However, for spontaneous ignition in air, the temperature needs to reach the level of 932 °F (500 °C).

How is Hydrogen Fuel Made?

Fueling your car with hydrogen instead of gasoline or diesel is not so unusual today.

Cars that run on hydrogen, use hydrogen fuel cells to generate electricity to power their electric motors.

A hydrogen fuel cell uses hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity through chemical reaction, and the byproduct beside energy is only water vapor and some heat.

Hydrogen is mostly produced today through steam reforming of natural gas, and can also be produced through water electrolisys, but this is process is less efficient.

After production, hydrogen is shipped to pumping stations to be used by people that own hydrogen-based vehicles. These vehicles do not pollute the environment because the fuel cells that power the vehicle produce only energy and water vapor as byproduct.

However, to be sure that the entire process (production and use) is clean, we have to use green hydrogen.

What is Green Hydrogen?

Green hydrogen is a term used to describee the hydrogen produced using only clean electricity produced by renewable energy such as solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, biomass, etc.

Producing green hydrogen is not that hard, however, transporting and storage is more challenging.

Why Hydrogen Cars Are Less Popular Today?

There are several reasons why hydrogen vehicles are less popular today, such as: price, convenience, performance, the environment and competition.

Price

There are three hydrogen fuel cell vehicles available on the market in the U.S. in 2021, and these are Toyota Mirai, Hyundai Nexo and Honda Clarity.

The most affordable vehicle among them is the 2021 Toyota Mirai,with a price of $49,500, and if you can get it for only about $18,000 after incentives, it is still an expensive vehicle to run.

The average price for hydrogen fuel is about $16,50 per kilogram (hydrogen is measured by weight and not by volume like gasoline and diesel).

Each hydrogen fuel cell vehicle can hold between 5 and 6 kg of hydrogen, which is enough for about 400 miles.

Paying between $82 and almost $100 for 400 miles of range is quite expensive.

Convenience

The number of hydrogen refueling stations is also very reduced in the United States (about 45 in the entire country) because is extremely expensive to build one (around $2 million).

The number of 45 hydrogen refuelling stations is extremely reduced compared to the number of over 40.500 EV charging stations across the United States in 2021.

Performance

Performance is also way behind the competition. 2021 Toyota Mirai does 0 to 60 mph in 9.1 seconds, while Tesla Model 3 reaches 60 mph in just 3.1 seconds. Top speed is also very small for Toyota Mirai, only 106 mph.

Environment

Hydrogen is mainly produced from fossil fuels today (natural gas), which is bad for the environment.

For the reasons mentioned above, the interest in hydrogen vehicles on the market has been decreased, while the interest in EVs has been increased.

Competition

The lithium-ion battery used by EVs began to advance quickly beyond hydrogen vehicles.

EVs took the spotlight and tons of money went into research and development of the lithium-ion batteries.

In the mean time, hydrogen vehicles were left in the dust.

Is Hydrogen Gas Harmful to Humans?

Due to its ability to displace oxygen in air, hydrogen can cause hypoxia (ACGIH 1991).

However, molecular hydrogen H2 or hydrogen gas is used in hospitals for inhalation using a special device that produces the gas. The hydrogen gas produced by the device, is inhaled by the patient through a nasal canulla.

The gas inhaled can be pure hydrogen gas, a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen or hydrogen gas mixed with air.

Breathing hydrogen gas allows people to inhale higher milligrams of molecular hydrogen per day than drinking hydrogen water. Hydrogen inhallation seems to be a better delivery system of molecular hydrogen to the circulatory system, and it can yield higher concentrations of molecular hydrogen within organs and tissues.

Hydrogen breathing machine

Hydrogen breathing machine for inhaling H2, image source: pixabay.com

Hydrogen gas inhallation seems to be better suited for traumatic injuries, acute disorders or diseases such as traumatic brain injury, heart attacks, cardiac arrest, strokes, etc.

In Japan, the Japanese Ministry of Health, has already approved hydrogen inhalation as a certified advanced medical treatment for post cardiac arrest syndrome, and they are implementing it in hospitals.

Intermitent exposure to molecular hydrogen seems to be more beneficial than constant exposure.

Conclusion

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the known universe, is the main fuel used by our Sun in the fusion reaction, and on our planet is used as fuel for rockets and other vehicles (hydrogen fuel cell cars).

In the industry and also in hospitals, molecular hydrogen (H2) is used in various treatments for patients.

Article written by:

I write about the renewable energy sector, electric cars and climate change issues. I love nature and good food, so I travel all over the world to see new places and meet new people. Magda Savin

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