There are many different types of energy out in existence, but the holy grail of energy is an inexhaustible and renewable energy supply which produces no waste = no pollution, and while many of them exist out there in the world, many believe hydrogen fuel to be the key. And why not? Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the whole universe, and we have water on the planet with hydrogen present in it, but extracting hydrogen from water is highly energy intensive to be useful, and other sources of hydrogen found the element attached to other elements. It is usually found in natural gas, a fossil fuel. Ideally, water, which is cleaner, would be the better source of hydrogen fuel, only we only get small quantities of hydrogen. Until now. Scientists are now able to completely skip the water purification part of the process to turn seawater into usable hydrogen. Now scientists are developing a new technology that turns seawater into hydrogen fuel.
Electrolysis is easy to understand; Run an electrical current through water and you split the water into its two chemical parts; hydrogen plus two oxygen atoms. Hydrogen is what you want; a reliable, zero-emission. Unfortunately, this method required far too much power to be efficient and capable of producing enough hydrogen in any meaningful quantities to be useful. Now they have found a way to avoid the whole electrolysis process while converting seawater into usable hydrogen fuel.
This method cannot be used on freshwater, and scientists working in both the Stanford University and the Beijing University of Chemical Technology have argued that generating the hydrogen straight from freshwater would likely cause a strain on the water resources out there. There are also fears if this method of producing hydrogen from freshwater would be made more impossible to allow given the potential risks of climate change which could worsen water shortages and droughts worldwide.
Instead, scientists have come up with a metal coating for the electrodes used. This should allow the electrodes to withstand the chemical reactions within the seawater as the process begins. The scientists wanted to make this whole experiment as environmentally friendly as they could, so they turned to solar power. They did this to provide an electrical charge to split the water into its atoms for the hydrogen to be extracted.
So many possibilities
Some scientists working on this project or have an interest in it, such as chemist Hong Dai from the Stanford University, who has already speculated this system of making fuel from seawater could find its water into the engine rooms of submarines and could even be fitted into SCUBA gear.
The advantages are obvious; at the moment some submarines use nuclear energy to propel their massive forms through the sea, but there are so many things that can go wrong despite how powerful the reactors make them; there could be a meltdown in the reactor, there could be a radiation leak which releases radiation on the whole crew, causing terrible health risks such as cancers. Other submarines use diesel-electric hybrids where the diesel engines are used on the surface while the electrical motors work underwater.
This system of making fuel from seawater could change that. If a submarine was fitted with this system, they would be surrounded by their fuel source while at the same time they would be receiving enough oxygen to live and breathe underwater for long periods. For SCUBA divers, the system could allow divers to remain underwater for longer periods than they can already while the electricity produced can power any equipment they’ve got.
To summarize – the hydrogen fuel cells can power the submarine or the gear, while the oxygen can provide breathable air. The only problem with this is it won’t be happening for a long time now. We are talking well into the future, and we will need to wait for scientists researching this technology can make it efficient enough to work as we are speculating it will.
Another downside is that hydrogen technology is still in its infancy. While everyone can see the advantages and recognise hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, and provides a highly efficient source of energy, the so-called hydrogen economy is still in its early period and will need time to fully grow.