Hydrogen is a universal fuel and the most abundant element in the universe. It is a light, odorless, colorless gas.
The universal nature of hydrogen means you have several choices to produce, store and use it. You can make hydrogen using wind, solar, hydropower, biomass, natural gas, coal, nuclear energy and other resources. Hydrogen can then be stored in a tank, distributed in a pipeline or used directly where it is produced. It can also be used in a variety of different ways: combined with cooking oil to make chocolate, peanut butter and other foods; burned to power an engine with no carbon emissions; to remove dirty sulfur from gasoline; combined with nitrogen to make fertilizer; and combined with oxygen in a fuel cell to make electricity for vehicles, homes and personal electronics with zero emissions–only water vapor.
Whether hydrogen is renewable or not depends on how it is produced. If it is produced from water, using renewable sources of electricity, or from many different kinds of biomass, hydrogen is completely renewable. If hydrogen is produced from natural gas, coal or water, using nuclear energy, hydrogen is not renewable (although these resources have many benefits when linked with hydrogen that they do not have when used on their own). Most of the hydrogen in the U.S. today is made from natural gas because it’s the cheapest to make fertilizer and to remove sulfur from gasoline. However, as more hydrogen is used to make clean electricity to power our homes, personal electronics and vehicles, the use of renewables to make hydrogen will grow.
Hydrogen is a key enabler for the wider use of renewables, because excess electricity can be stored as hydrogen. Then the hydrogen can be used to make electricity later, when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. When used in combination with other renewables this way, hydrogen can help increase the reliability of renewable electricity as a whole. It’s a great way that hydrogen and renewables can help each other to improve our environment, reduce our dependence on imported fuels and grow the economy.
- The world produces enough hydrogen right now to fuel 180 million fuel cell-electric vehicles (FCEVs)
- More than 56 billion kilograms of hydrogen are produced globally each year (the equivalent of 56 billion gallons of gasoline).
- 53% of the hydrogen produced in North America is already dedicated to transportation, enough to fuel 21 million FCEVs. It’s used to make gasoline cleaner by removing sulfur from petroleum at refineries.
- A large hydrogen production site exists today near almost every major U.S. and European city. [map pdf]
- A fuel cell vehicle using hydrogen produced from water using renewable energy produces no exhaust emissions.
Source: The National Hydrogen Association, 2008