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The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2016-10-07 16:05:21
  • Article ID: 662443

Six Things You Might Not Know About Hydrogen

  • Credit: science photo/Shutterstock

    Hydrogen fuel cells, like the one shown above, could provide many advantages and pathways for cleaner energy use.

October 8th is National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Day. To celebrate, here are a few things you might not know about hydrogen and fuel cells.

Why is National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Day celebrated on October 8th?

The day is celebrated on October 8 (10/08) because the atomic weight of hydrogen is 1.008 atomic mass units.

Why should I care about hydrogen? What is it good for?

Hydrogen is an important chemical for many industrial processes, most notably in the production of ammonia, which is used to make the fertilizer used to grow food, and in petroleum refining, where hydrogen is used to produce gasoline. Other uses include metal refining and the semiconductor industry, where it is used to make computer chips in phones and tablets.

Hydrogen can also be used as a fuel to power cars and heat buildings. The most important benefit of using hydrogen as a fuel is that when you burn it, the byproduct is just water. Hydrogen can also be used as a way to store energy, and this use has the potential to have a large impact on our future. Hydrogen can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, integrate renewable energy into the grid and reduce the use of petroleum and other fossil fuels.

What is a fuel cell and how does it work?

A fuel cell is a device, similar to a battery, that converts the energy stored in chemical bonds to electrical energy. Fuel cells are more efficient than traditional combustion methods to convert fuel into electrical energy.Unlike a battery, a fuel cell isn't recharged, but is rather supplied with a flow of fuel (like hydrogen) that it reacts with an oxidant (like air or pure oxygen), which is then converted to electrical energy.

It's cleaner, too. When hydrogen is the fuel, the only byproduct is water — unlike our common combustion engines, which can create harmful byproducts like nitrogen oxides.

What are fuel cells used for?

Fuel cells can be used almost anywhere that there is a need for electrical power. They are more efficient than combustion engines and have higher reliability and lower emissions. In cars, fuel cells can provide faster refueling and longer ranges than current generations of batteries.

Over 60,000 fuel cells were shipped worldwide in 2015. Fuel cells are being used to provide backup power to telecommunications centers and cell phone towers, where their higher reliability and lower maintenance more than makes up for the higher initial equipment cost.

Hydrogen fuel cells can also replace natural gas in combined heat and power plants, which are used to generate usable heat and power simultaneously as decentralized generation. Fuel cell systems can convert up to 90 percent of the energy in the fuel (natural gas or hydrogen) into electrical power and useful heat. There are currently thousands of small units providing electrical power and hot water to homes in Japan, as well as in hospitals, hotels and at companies with a large demand for hot water or steam. Fuel cells are also being used at electric utilities to provide clean, reliable power to the grid.

In transportation, fuel cells offer the potential for efficient electric vehicles with the same range and refueling times customers have become accustomed to, while limiting the tailpipe emissions to only water. They are already being used in bicycles, cars, buses, trucks and even trains and planes. In California, there are now over 700 hydrogen fuel cell cars on the road and over 20 retail hydrogen fueling stations, with another 20 in development. Fuel cell cars can travel long distances before needing to be refueled (250-350 miles), and can be refueled in approximately the same time it takes to refuel your current gasoline-powered vehicle (three to five minutes).

What's holding fuel cells back, and what's being done to get more fuel cells out there?

While hydrogen and fuel cells are competitive in some applications, and some fuel cell vehicles are on the road, costs are still too high to be widely accepted in the market. Fuel cells have to get cheaper, while still achieving the durability and performance that people are accustomed to. Researchers have identified several key areas for cost reduction, including hydrogen storage and delivery and fuel cell materials costs.

Current commercial fuel cells use platinum, a rare and expensive metal, as the catalyst. Researchers are working on new catalysts that use less of this expensive metal, or that don't need platinum at all.

Lastly, for the adoption of fuel cell-powered cars, the number of hydrogen refueling stations must increase and they must be distributed across the country.

What research is Argonne doing on hydrogen and fuel cells?

Four different divisions at the lab conduct research in hydrogen and fuel cells, ranging from studies of the environmental impacts of fuel cell vehicles to developing new catalysts. Argonne is a partner in two new U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) consortia aimed at reducing cost and improving the performance and durability of fuel cells to extend their adoption in the marketplace. Argonne researchers lead efforts in modeling and validation and in studies of fuel cell electrode layers for DOE's Fuel Cell Consortium for Performance and Durability. These studies focus on determining the relationships between structure, composition and performance in the electrode layer of fuel cells to optimize the performance and durability of polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells, the most commonly used commercial fuel cell.

Argonne and Los Alamos National Laboratory co-lead a second DOE fuel-cell-focused consortium, ElectroCat, that is accelerating the development of fuel cell catalysts that do not use expensive platinum-group metals. ElectroCat focuses on generating, analyzing, and evaluating catalyst candidates in a high-throughput laboratory.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America's scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit the Office of Science website.

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Discovered: A Quick and Easy Way to Shut Down Instabilities in Fusion Devices

Article describes use of second neutral beam injector to suppress instabilities on the NSTX-U

Researchers Create Molecular Movie of Virus Preparing to Infect Healthy Cells

A research team has created for the first time a movie with nanoscale resolution of the three-dimensional changes a virus undergoes as it prepares to infect a healthy cell. The scientists analyzed thousands of individual snapshots from intense X-ray flashes, capturing the process in an experiment at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

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Scientists at Berkeley Lab and Purdue University developed new theories and 3-D simulations to explain what's at work in the mysterious jets of energy and matter beaming from the center of galaxies at nearly the speed of light.

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PPPL research performed with collaborators from Princeton University and the Institute for Advanced Computational Science at the State University of New York at Stony Brook has shown how plasma causes exceptionally strong, microscopic structures known as carbon nanotubes to grow.

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The ThermalTracker software analyzes video with night vision, the same technology that helps soldiers see in the dark, to help birds and bats near offshore wind turbines.

Drone Tech Offers New Ways to Manage Climate Change

An innovation providing key clues to how humans might manage forests and cities to cool the planet is taking flight. Cornell researchers are using drone technology to more accurately measure surface reflectivity on the landscape, a technological advance that could offer a new way to manage climate change.


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Kathryn Hastie Wins Spicer Award for Lassa Virus Work at SLAC's X-Ray Synchrotron

Kathryn Hastie, staff scientist at The Scripps Research Institute, has spent the last decade studying how the deadly Lassa virus - which causes up to half a million cases of Lassa fever each year in West Africa - enters human cells via a cell surface receptor.

Southern Research to Play Key Role in Low Cost Carbon Fiber Project

Southern Research's Energy & Environment division (E&E) will participate as a subcontractor to WRI to provide renewable acrylonitrile -- the key raw material needed to produce the highest quality carbon fibers -- produced from biomass-derived second generation sugars.

Newly Upgraded Laser Allows Scientists to Peer Further Into the Extreme Universe at SLAC's LCLS

Scientists at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory recently upgraded a powerful optical laser system used to create shockwaves that generate high-pressure conditions like those found within planetary interiors. The laser system now delivers three times more energy for experiments with SLAC's ultrabright X-ray laser, providing a more powerful tool for probing extreme states of matter in our universe.

Three Brookhaven Lab Scientists Selected to Receive Early Career Research Program Funding

Three scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have been selected by DOE's Office of Science to receive significant research funding through its Early Career Research Program.

Upcoming 232nd ECS Meeting to Feature International Energy Summit, Nobel Laureate Lecture

The 232nd ECS Meeting will include 49 topical symposia and over 2,300 technical presentations, including the 7th International Electrochemical Energy Summit, the Society's inaugural OpenCon and Hack Day events, and plenary lecture delivered by former U.S. Secretary of Energy and Nobel Prize Laureate Steven Chu.

PNNL Scientist Jiwen Fan Receives DOE Early Career Research Award

Jiwen Fan of the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has been selected to receive a 2017 Early Career Research Program award from the U.S. Department of Energy. Fan will use the award to study severe thunderstorms in the central United States - storms that produce large hail, damaging winds, tornadoes, and torrential rainfall.

Three SLAC Scientists Receive DOE Early Career Research Grants

Three scientists at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory will receive DOE Early Career Research Program grants for research to find evidence of cosmic inflation, understand how plasmas excite particles to high energies and develop a way to accelerate particles in much shorter distances with terahertz radiation.

Four ORNL Researchers Receive DOE Early Career Funding Awards

Four Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers specializing in nuclear physics, fusion energy, advanced materials and environmental science are among 59 recipients of Department of Energy's Office of Science Early Career Research Program awards.

Missouri S&T Professor Earns Patent for Energy Storage Technology

ceramic engineering professor at Missouri University of Science and Technology has received a federal patent for his latest innovation, a multi-layer ceramic capacitor that could help boost energy storage in applications ranging from pulse power devices to military hardware.

James Peery Named Chief Scientist of the Global Security Directorate at Oak Ridge National Laboratory

James Peery, who has led critical national security programs at Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory, has been selected as the chief scientist of the Global Security Directorate at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.


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Creating a Molecular Super Sponge, From the Ground Up

A new uranium-based metal-organic framework, NU-1301, could aid energy producers and industry.

Physicists Move Closer to Listening in on Sub-Atomic Conversation

Calculations of a subatomic particle called the sigma provide insight into the communication between subatomic particles deep inside the heart of matter.

Meet the Director: Chuck Black

This is a continuing profile series on the directors of the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facilities. These scientists lead a variety of research institutions that provide researchers with the most advanced tools of modern science including accelerators, colliders, supercomputers, light sources and neutron sources, as well as facilities for studying the nano world, the environment, and the atmosphere.

Making an Ultra-small Silicon "Chip"

A new polymer, created with a structure inspired by crystalline silicon, may make it easier to build better computers and solar cells.

How to Keep a Vital Diagnostic Isotope in Stock

Researchers succeed in producing larger quantities of a long-lived radioisotope, titanium-44, that generates a needed isotope, scandium-44g, on demand.

When Strontium Is Away, Iridium Comes Out to Play

Developing a highly active and acid-stable catalyst for water splitting could significantly impact solar energy technologies.

On Track Towards a Zika Virus Vaccine

Antibody's molecular structure reveals how it recognizes the Zika virus

Quantum Computing Building Blocks

Scientists invented an approach to creating ordered patterns of nitrogen-vacancy centers in diamonds, a promising approach to storing and computing quantum data.

Scientists Program Yeast to Turn Plant Sugars into Biodiesel

Redox metabolism was engineered in Yarrowia lipolytica to increase the availability of reducing molecules needed for lipid production.

Soils Could Release Much More Carbon than Expected as Climate Warms

Deeper soil layers are more sensitive to warming than previously thought.


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