Water makes up 71% of the planet earth and it is the most potential energy source of the future. Water is a product of combustion between Hydrogen and Oxygen, two most abundantly available elements and vital for life on earth. The bondage between Hydrogen and Oxygen is so strong that it requires a certain amount of energy to separate them. Separation of Hydrogen and Oxygen using the process of Electrolysis is a well-known technology. Separation of water by high temperature using Thermolysis has also been studied. In both the processes the separation of Hydrogen and Oxygen after decomposition is a key step because of the strong affinity between the two elements. Hydrogen has to be separated in a pure form without any trace of Oxygen. Currently most of Hydrogen is generated commercially by steam reforming natural gas because of its easy availability as piped gas in many developed countries. Moreover steam reforming is a well established commercial technology that has been used for decades in chemical process industries. The hydrogen resulting from steam reforming is acceptable for combusting in Hydrogen internal combustion engines but not pure enough for a Fuel cell car. Any trace of impurity from natural gas such as Sulfur or Mercaptans can potentially poison the catalyst used in fuel cell which is very expensive. Hydrogen with purity less than 99.99% is not recommended for Fuel cell applications.
Currently there are few issues to be addressed before Hydrogen becoming a commercial fuel. The energy required to separate Hydrogen from water by commercial electrolysis is about 6Kws (kilowatts) to generate 1 m3 (cubic meter) of Hydrogen. Two key factors for electrolysis are purity of water and direct current source. Water of certain purity is a critical part for Hydrogen generation. Deionized water with electrical conductivity less than 0.10 micro Siemens/cm is required. Normal drinking water conductivity is less than 100micro Siemens/cm. The potable water can be deionized with reverse osmosis system to get necessary quality. In fact both high purity water and direct current are not commercially available. A renewable energy sources such as solar or wind that generates direct current can be used for electrolysis. This will drop batteries and rectifier that we normally use in renewable energy systems. The generated Hydrogen can be stored in cylinders under high pressure. The stored hydrogen is the stored energy that can be used as and when required. We can use the stored Hydrogen to generate electricity to meet our power requirement whether it is a home or business or industry. The major advantage with this system is that we can generate power when we need and we don’t have to depend on the grid power. We can also export surplus power to the grid. In fact all DC appliances can be connected with DC power from Fuel cell and operated to improve the efficiency. Such a system is ideal for remote locations without any grid supply such as remote villages or islands.
The same stored Hydrogen can also be used as fuel for a car whether it is a combustion engine or a Fuel cell car. Hydrogen can be compressed and stored under high pressure. Alternatively, Hydrogen can be stored using metal hydrides in smaller volumes. Honda introduced the first fuel cell car in the market in 1999. Since then they have made considerable improvements. Honda FCX Clarity, sedan offers a mileage of 270 miles for a single cylinder of Hydrogen at 5000 psi pressure. They are introducing a latest model with Hydrogen pressure at 10,000 psi which will considerably improve the mileage further. Unlike Hybrid cars, Fuel cell cars run silently and experts who have test-driven the car are very much impressed with the performance. Similarly Ford introduced Hydrogen combustion engine 6.8 liters V-10 engine to power E-450 Hydrogen shuttle bus. Ford modified their Gasoline engine to suit Hydrogen fuel.
Substituting Gasoline with Hydrogen is no longer a theory but a commercial reality. More and more research is being undertaken to improve the performance. Currently the cost of Hydrogen cars and Hydrogen fuel is expensive, due to lack of infrastructures to manufacture such cars or to distribute Hydrogen. However these cars will soon replace gasoline cars. Similarly homes and business can generate their own electricity for their daily use using stored Hydrogen. Water will become the fuel of the future and Hydrogen will clean up the air that has been heavily polluted by fossil fuels for decades.