Sources of Hydrogen

Hydrogen is abundant

... but there is no free hydrogen on earth

There are many popular delusions about hydrogen, including the notion that it is a source of energy.  Hydrogen is, in fact, the most abundant element in the universe.  Most of the hydrogen in the universe is not chemically bound to anything.  We need go no farther than the sun to find hydrogen in quantities that are enormous beyond words.  But, as they say, the problem isn't storage; it's retrieval.

On earth, there is no free hydrogen.  There are no hydrogen wells.

So where does our hydrogen come from?  Most of our hydrogen comes from natural gas (mostly methane, CH4) by a process called steam-reforming.  Most of the hydrogen is used in the manufacture of ammonia (NH3).

The other main source of hydrogen is water gas reaction. Coal is treated with steam to produce carbon monoxide and hydrogen.

Some of our hydrogen --- but only an infinitesimal amount --- comes from electrolysis of water, the technique that high-school chemistry students learn about.

Why?  It boils down to the input energy required.  Electrolysis requires much more energy than the other processes, and quite a bit more energy (from where?) than we ever get back when we use the hydrogen.

We thank Professor John Tanaka, University of Connecticut, for this information.

Perhaps you would like to subscribe to  The Energy Advocate

 To main Energy Advocate Index 
The Energy Advocate


Copyright © The Energy Advocate 1999. All rights reserved.