On October 8, in recognition of Hydrogen’s standard atomic weight (1.008) we pause for a moment and consider the facets of the most abundant element in the universe. Element #1 on our periodic table, and the lightest of all elements. It is #1 for many reasons.
Just think—it is calculated that hydrogen makes up 75% of all matter in the universe*. That’s a lot of hydrogen.
Hydrogen can be liquified, compressed in gaseous form, and readily joins with other elements to form important molecules and compounds essential to life on Earth. These include water and acids, and has many uses in industry and research. We are learning how to harness that element for clean, reliable energy purposes. Finding ways to replace carbon-based energy sources with clean hydrogen ones.
Like so many other elements it has a “dark side.” Hydrogen is combustible, and when it burns it can be literally invisible—a feature not very desirable in our use case settings. Respect for and caution with Hydrogen is always called for, just as with so many other of nature’s elements. Hydrogen also has an “appetite” for many metals, and without proper care and preparation it can dissolve or otherwise corrode and decay them. Treating the “Big H” with respect is essential in effectively adopting it for uses in any kind of application.
Fuel cells (FCs) that run on hydrogen, the most common technologies today for instance, offer tremendous promise for mobility (transportation, material handling, etc.) and electric power for on-grid and off-grid applications. The prospect of replacing oil, gas, coal, and other carbon sources for these needs can pave the way to the kind of Zero-Emissions energy supplies that can power our futures. Learning how to cost-effectively and safely harness this little element can be a key to a more sustainable and clean energy future.
Much effort is going into fuel cell development for these high-consuming energy applications. FC cars, buses, trains, boats, and over-the-road trucks (and more!) can extend the capabilities of other electrified vehicles. FC vehicles can offer longer-range travel with simple refueling in the mode that gasoline/diesel engine users are accustomed to. Electric motors supported by hydrogen engines are already powering such craft around the world. The economic and commercial models need to mature and catch up with the technical prowess that hydrogen is delivering, but it is coming.
So, celebrate the little element that CAN, and WILL, be an ever-increasingly important part of our world (its already about 75% of it after all) in our daily lives. Hydrogen is #1 for a LOT of reasons!
*There are caveats and details regarding different kinds of mass that are counted or not counted in this calculation, but you get the point.