Hydrogen Explained

Onyx Power and Gas Consulting continues a weekly series of an overall view of energy, starting from the basics of what energy is to a detailed analysis of energy on a global scale including renewable energy sources.  This series of news articles should provide a complete course on energy…enjoy, check out archives and come back each week for additional information on how all sorts of energy sources impact our daily lives.

What is hydrogen?

Hydrogen is the simplest element. Each atom of hydrogen has only one proton. It is also the most plentiful gas in the universe. Stars like the sun primarily consist of hydrogen.

The sun is basically a giant ball of hydrogen and helium gases. In the sun’s core, hydrogen atoms combine to form helium atoms. This process—called fusion—gives off radiant energy.

This radiant energy sustains life on earth. It gives us light and helps plants grow. Radiant energy is stored as chemical energy in fossil fuels. Most of the energy we use today originally came from the sun’s radiant energy.

Hydrogen gas is much lighter than air, and it rises fast and is quickly ejected from the atmosphere. This is why hydrogen as a gas (H2) is not found by itself on earth. It is found only in compound form with other elements. Hydrogen combined with oxygen, is water (H2O). Hydrogen combined with carbon forms different compounds like methane (CH4), coal, and petroleum. Hydrogen is found in all growing things. It is also an abundant element in the earth’s crust.

Hydrogen has the highest energy content of any common fuel by weight (about three times more than gasoline), but it has the lowest energy content by volume (about four times less than gasoline).

The sun is essentially a giant ball of hydrogen gas undergoing fusion into helium gas. This causes it to produce vast amounts of energy.

The sun

Did you know?

Hydrogen is the lightest element. It is a gas at normal temperature and pressure, but hydrogen condenses to a liquid at temperatures of -423° Fahrenheit (-253° Celsius).

Hydrogen is an energy carrier

Energy carriers move energy in a useable form from one place to another. Electricity is the most well-known energy carrier. We use electricity to move the energy produced from coal, uranium, natural gas, and renewable energy sources in power plants to homes and businesses. For many energy needs, it is easier to use electricity than it is to use the energy sources themselves.

Hydrogen is an energy carrier like electricity and must be produced from another substance. Hydrogen is not widely used now, but it has the potential for greater use in the future. Hydrogen can be produced from a variety of resources (water, fossil fuels, or biomass) and is a byproduct of other chemical processes.

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