Hydrogen basics

Chemical and physical properties of hydrogen

Hydrogen is a chemical element with the chemical symbol H and atomic number 1. Hydrogen is the lightest element on the periodic table and, at standard temperature and pressure, is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, nonmetallic, highly combustible diatomic gas with the molecular formula H2.

Hydrogen production

Hydrogen can be prepared in several different ways, but the vast majority of bulk commercial hydrogen production is by steam reforming of natural gas. At high temperatures, steam (water vapor) reacts with methane to yield carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Water electrolysis is a simple method of producing hydrogen in which water is separated into its two constituent elements, hydrogen and oxygen, by passing an electrical current through it.

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McPhy electrolyzers (click to enlarge)

The emergence of new sources of renewable energy capable of powering water electrolysis is poised to make water electrolysis a mainstream method of producing hydrogen in a carbon-constrained world. Blue Fuel Energy is working closely with Siemens of Germany and McPhy of France, who will supply electrolyzers for our renewable hydrogen production facilities in northeastern BC — operations that will be the largest of their kind in the world.

Hydrogen applications

The largest application of hydrogen today is the processing (“upgrading”) of fossil fuels, and in the production of ammonia. Hydrogen has several other important uses, including as a hydrogenating agent and in the production of methanol. It is similarly the source of hydrogen in the manufacture of hydrochloric acid. It is also used as a reducing agent of metallic ores.

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Siemens electrolyzer container (click to enlarge)

Looking to the immediate future, hydrogen production is expected to grow significantly with the emergence of new markets, notably hydrogen-powered vehicles and energy storage. The power plants of hydrogen vehicles convert the chemical energy of hydrogen to mechanical energy either by burning hydrogen in an internal combustion engine, or by reacting hydrogen with oxygen in a fuel cell to run electric motors. Several of the world’s largest automakers, including Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai, have indicated that they see fuel cells as a vital zero-emissions technology and have launched, or will soon launch, various new fuel cell vehicles — all of which will ideally be powered by renewable hydrogen.