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Hydrogen Power as a Fuel Source

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It is no secret that the Gulf war was fought for superiority of the vast oil reserves in the Arab regions. This point to the fact that the superpowers are experiencing a severe shortage of fuel for its un-satiated energy needs. While the advanced nations in the world are the biggest consumers of fuel, their fuel production capacities are very limited or almost non-existent. Scientists predict that the world's oil reserves will not last for long and we need to find out alternative forms of fuel for our ever growing fuel needs. In addition, the quantum of pollution that occurs by burning fossil fuels is an ever growing threat to the already fragile ecosystems of the world. It is in this scenario that the world has turned its attention to non-conventional fuels that are cheap, non-polluting and easily producible. While a variety of fuels have been considered as non-conventional alternate fuels, the potential of hydrogen as a fuel of the future is promising.

In terms of usage, it is believed that the United States is the world's most fuel-consuming nation with consumption levels reaching twelve million barrels a day. The astounding part of this statistic is that two third of this fuel, that is eight million barrels are burned on the roads to power cars and trucks. Obviously, the United States is also the world's largest producer of Carbon dioxide that contributes most to the green house effect. The cost for importing so much oil a day is a big strain on the economy [Tucker, 2003]. The hydrocarbons that are used in the gasoline-powered engines release huge quantities of Hydrogen, Carbon dioxide, Nitrous Oxide, Lead, cadmium, and other compounds that are harmful to the environment either in the free state, or in the combined form.

Perhaps the first use of hydrogen as a fuel happened when it was used in balloons that were used for flying. Hydrogen being lighter than air could propel the balloon up into the air. Similarly they were also used in Zeppelins, which were much more advanced than balloons. However the use of hydrogen in these primitive flying machines soon had to stop because of the inflammable and explosive nature of hydrogen. After some major accidents that took a lot of lives, hydrogen was phased out and was replaced by the inert Helium for flying operations.

Renewed interest in hydrogen as a source of fuel arose because of the fact that hydrogen is a major component of water. With the fuel costs spiraling higher each year, scientists turned to water as a fuel source. It was out of this research that hydrogen, a major component of water, was considered to be an efficient alternate fuel. There are two different ways in which hydrogen may be used as a fuel to run automobiles. It can either be burnt inside a modified engine to produce power or it can be used in fuel cells which derive electric power that can be used to run the motor. In either case, the byproducts are water and /or oxygen, which are not polluting and so such engines will not pose any environmental hazard. However, the costs of such engine are relatively very high [ICLEI, 2003]

Other than using hydrogen directly as a fuel source, it may also be used to power automobiles and other engines using fuel cells. Electric engine vehicles are vehicles whose motors are powered through fuel cells. They produce much lower emissions than gasoline vehicles and hence result in zero air pollution. This is because they do not burn any fuel. All their power comes from fuel cells. Also, unlike gasoline vehicles which pollute more as they grow older, in electric vehicles there is no degradation or failure of emission control systems. According to recent studies, electric vehicles are ninety eight



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