Hydrogen is now considered one of the best means of storing and transporting the energy of the future. At present most hydrogen is made from the reforming of fossil fuel gas, but it can be made electrolytically, by splitting water molecules into its constituent parts of oxygen and hydrogen. If the electricity that is used comes from a renewable energy source, then Hydrogen could then become a green energy alternative to power everything from laptops to submarines.
Electrolysing water is the favoured technology to replace the present industrial method of reforming fossil fuel derived hydrogen. Electrolysis methods are well proven and domestic scale electrolyser units are now entering the consumer marketplace. However, many believe that increased research investment could produce a new and more efficient way to release hydrogen from water.
There are various methods by which hydrogen can be produced biologically. Landfill gas and other biomass treatments can produce hydrogen directly or provide feedstocks such as Syngas and other hydrogen precursors. Experiments with various natural, mutant and GM strains of micro organisms have demonstrated potential for the future cultivation and processing methods which could produce pure biological hydrogen.
Efficient Hydrogen storage is one of the important areas of ongoing research required if a Hydrogen focused economy is to develop. Compressed and Liquid Hydrogen has been stored, transported and used for a long time, but other concepts are new and may offer improved suitability for the transport and consumer goods sectors. Metal halides options are proving both expensive and heavy, whilst carbon nanotubes are proving difficult to manufacture large scale. At present no one has managed to achieve a higher density of hydrogen than is already contained in petroleum.
Fuel cell technology, which allows hydrogen gas to bond back with atmospheric oxygen to create electricity and fresh water, is the key to hydrogen exploitation. Although many different fuel cell concepts have been successfully developed, no single chemical approach is looking like taking over the market sectors. Miniature fuel cell stacks are being developed to power micro-electronics, whilst larger designs power automobiles and still larger systems are being stacked into multi megawatt grid failure back up power supplies.