Where Does Hydrogen Come From?

There are numerous possible sources for producing hydrogen including:

  • Electrolysis of water – Using electricity, it is easy to split water molecules to create pure hydrogen and oxygen. One big advantage of this process is that you can do it anywhere. For example, you could have an Electrolyser in your garage producing hydrogen from tap water, and you could fuel your lawnmower, leaf blower, car, etc. with that hydrogen.
  • Reforming organic substances – Oil and natural gas contain hydrocarbons — molecules consisting of hydrogen and carbon. Using a device called a fuel processor or a reformer, you can split the hydrogen off the carbon in a hydrocarbon relatively easily and then use the hydrogen. Reformers discard the leftover carbon to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.  This option is, of course, slightly perverse. You are using fossil fuel as the source of hydrogen for the hydrogen economy. This approach reduces air pollution, but it doesn’t solve either the greenhouse gas problem (because there is still carbon going into the atmosphere) or the dependence problem (you still need oil). However, it may be a necessary intermediate step to take during the transition to the hydrogen economy. When you hear about “fuel-cell-powered vehicles” being developed by the car companies right now, almost all of them plan to get the hydrogen for the fuel cells from gasoline using a reformer. The reason is because gasoline is an easily available source of hydrogen.
  • Pyrolysis - Another technology for producing hydrogen is to break organic molecules into hydrogen and carbon.  An oxidant free chamber can be heated to sufficient temperature to break hydrogen away from carbon and allow the carbon to be separated, leaving industrial grade hydrogen.

Right now there are several different ways to create electricity that do not use fossil fuels:

  • Nuclear power
  • Hydroelectric dams
  • Solar cells
  • Wind turbines
  • Geothermal power
  • Wave and tidal power
  • Co-generation (For example, a sawmill might burn bark to create power, or a landfill might burn methane that the rotting trash produces.)

In the United States:

  • 20 percent of electrical power currently comes from nuclear and 7 percent comes from hydroelectric. Solar, wind, geothermal and other sources generate only 5 percent of electrical power.
  • The Nuclear Power Industry has waste disposal and potential terrorist dirty bomb problems, along with political problems.
  • Nuclear plants require enormous government subsidies.  They experience extremely long development lead times and 15 or more years of operation to provide energy payback of fossil resources used to mine, refine, and construct these massive power plants.
  • Carbon dioxide and other fossil emissions required to prime the nuclear power pump come first, then after a long time there may or may not be an energy payback.
  • Wind, wave and solar power systems currently have cost and location problems.