Hydrogen is a clean fuel that, when consumed in a fuel cell, produces only water. Hydrogen can be produced from a variety of domestic resources, such as natural gas, nuclear power, biomass, and renewable power like solar and wind. These qualities make it an attractive fuel option for transportation and electricity generation applications. It can be used in cars, in houses, for portable power, and in many more applications.
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Today, hydrogen fuel can be produced through several methods. The most common methods today are natural gas reforming (a thermal process), and electrolysis. Other methods include solar-driven and biological processes.
Thermal processes for hydrogen production typically involve steam reforming, a high-temperature process in which steam reacts with a hydrocarbon fuel to produce hydrogen. Many hydrocarbon fuels can be reformed to produce hydrogen, including natural gas, diesel, renewable liquid fuels, gasified coal, or gasified biomass. Today, about 95% of all hydrogen is produced from steam reforming of natural gas.
Solar-driven processes use light as the agent for hydrogen production. There are a few solar-driven processes, including photobiological, photoelectrochemical, and solar thermochemical. Photobiological processes use the natural photosynthetic activity of bacteria and green algae to produce hydrogen. Photoelectrochemical processes use specialized semiconductors to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen. Solar thermochemical hydrogen production uses concentrated solar power to drive water splitting reactions often along with other species such as metal oxides.
Biological processes use microbes such as bacteria and microalgae and can produce hydrogen through biological reactions. In microbial biomass conversion, the microbes break down organic matter like biomass or wastewater to produce hydrogen, while in photobiological processes the microbes use sunlight as the energy source.
Several auto manufacturers are selling or leasing FCVs in select markets, primarily in California where some hydrogen fueling stations already exist. Hydrogen infrastructure is also popping up in other locations around the country. Stations are being planned or built in the Northeast and Hawaii, and fuel cell transit buses are already cruising the streets in cities like Boston, Massachusetts, and Flint, Michigan. There are plans to expand FCV offerings over the next few years as infrastructure grows and the technology continues to mature.
Hydrogen fuel can be produced from water. In a process called electrolysis, electricity is used to split water into H2 and O2. The electricity can come from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power.
While hydrogen is abundant in the universe, it must be separated from other compounds to be used as fuel. This process can be energy intensive. The amount of emissions associated with producing hydrogen fuels depends on the source of hydrogen and production method. Currently, the majority of hydrogen that is made for use as a fuel comes from natural gas, but hydrogen fuel also can be made from water, oil, coal, and plant material. Hydrogen can even be produced from your trash! Pilot projects have used landfill gas and wastewater to make hydrogen fuel.
Fueling a hydrogen FCV is similar to refilling your gas tank. Simply attach a nozzle from a designated hydrogen dispenser at a public station and fill up the tank. The refueling times are also similar: FCVs can be refueled in as little as 5 minutes.