Fill vehicle fuel tanks with it instead of gasoline. Pipe it to homes to generate electricity onsite, while providing heating and hot water, instead of sending electricity through transmission lines. And emit only water vapor where it is used.
Hydrogen offers great opportunities. Fuel cells that electrochemically combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity and heat offer the promise of making hydrogen an ideal universal fuel. Make that an ideal energy carrier rather than a fuel, because while hydrogen does grow on trees and fall with the rain, it does not occur naturally by itself. It cannot be mined or harvested. But other energy sources can be used to make hydrogen, and then the hydrogen transported or stored for use where and when needed.
Most hydrogen production today is by steam reforming natural gas. But natural gas is already a good fuel and one that is rapidly becoming scarcer and more expensive. It is also a fossil fuel, so the carbon dioxide released in the reformation process adds to the greenhouse effect. Hydrogen has very high energy for its weight, but very low energy for its volume, so new technology is needed to store and transport it. And fuel cell technology is still in early development, needing improvements in efficiency and durability. The challenges NREL researchers are working on to help make a hydrogen economy a reality include:
- Fuel Cells — Improving fuel cell technology and materials needed for fuel cells.
- Production — Developing technology to efficiently and cost-effectively make hydrogen from renewable energy sources.
- Storage — Developing technology to efficiently and cost-effectively store and transport hydrogen.