Updated: Jun 7, 2021
With one proton and one electron (no neutrons), hydrogen is the simplest of all elements, taking its rightful place at the start of the periodic table.
Hydrogen atoms that have been stripped of their only electron, become positively charged and form the basis for how fuel cells can use hydrogen without burning it to create electricity (with about 60% efficiency). These positive atoms (protons) are also give things like lemon juice and vinegar their distinctive sharp taste! They float around in these solutions and are the key component of acids.
It's estimated that more than 70% of the visible universe is hydrogen.
So there is plenty of it around but it's a very friendly molecule and joins with others easily. So much that you won't find it naturally in in its pure state on earth. But you do find it in abundance paired with oxygen in the form of water. It's name comes from the Greek 'hydro' and 'genes' meaning water forming.
About 10% of YOU, is made from hydrogen (by weight), mostly in the form of water in your body which is up-to 70% of YOU. Which coincidentally 70% is also the percentage of the earth that is covered in water.
Hydrogen is also the lightest element in the universe. So much lighter than the air around us. If you were to fill a balloon with the stuff, and let it go, it would travel upwards at 45 mph (72 kph).
Hydrogen is incredibly energy dense by weight, containing 33.32 kWh of useful energy for every 1kg. That's more than double that of natural gas, two and a half times more than diesel or gasoline and 137 times that of lithium-ion batteries.
Being the lightest element helps with the above, however roles are reversed when you look at the energy density by volume.
As hydrogen is a gas, it isn't naturally as dense by volume as liquid based fuels but you can compress hydrogen so it takes less space, typically in transport it is compressed to 700 bar (10,000 psi) but this is still, one sixth of the kWh per litre of volume compared to gasoline/diesel. Storing hydrogen in a non-gaseous form is the topic for another blog.
1 Litre of water contains 111.11g of hydrogen, which has 3.7kWh of energy!
If you could get all that energy out, that would be enough energy to travel 7 miles in a fuel cell electric vehicle (or half that in your traditional petrol/diesel car). The equivalent water used in a 2 minute shower in the morning, contains enough hydrogen for a whole day's hot water and heating in the average natural gas powered home (80% of UK homes use natural gas for heating and hot water).
However, traditional electrolysers are inefficient. They effectively convert 3.7kWh of electricity into 2.27KWh of hydrogen.
Supercritical can extract more! follow us to find out how much...
So is hydrogen the answer to everything ? Absolutely not.
But for solutions where electricity can't be directly used as an alternative for fossil fuels, or for longer term energy storage and especially where weight is critical, hydrogen can significantly help, as long as you can produce it efficiently that is.
1) - Fuel Cell Efficiency
4) - 45mph Balloon
6) - Traditional Electrolyser Efficiency > based on 54.2 kWh required per Kg of H2 produced