All aboard! The hydrogen revolution is here

Full steam ahead: experts estimate hydrogen will make up 25% of the world’s energy by 2050. © Alstom

Could hydrogen be the fuel of the future? A growing number of trains, cars and buses are running on the element. Experts think it has the power to change our transport systems forever.

What’s happening

The journalist stands by a train and pours himself a glass of liquid from the exhaust pipe.

“You can’t smell it…you can’t taste it.” he says. “That’s because it’s water. Pure water.”

This train is powered by hydrogen. It doesn’t spit out harmful, polluting fumes — just heat and pure H2O.

Find out more

Hydrogen has been used as a power source since the 1930s, when it filled airships making transatlantic crossings. More recently, hydrogen fuel has powered NASA’s rockets.

Now, experts are using hydrogen cells in large vehicles to replace electric batteries, which are extremely heavy and take hours to charge.

Hydrogen is lighter than air, and fuel cells take minutes to refill. As it is also the most common element in the universe, supplies of it are unlimited.

But producing hydrogen cells is risky and expensive. The gas is so light, it must be compressed to 300 times more pressure than a car tyre.

Elon Musk has called hydrogen cells “fool cells”. But experts say the 2020s will be the “decade of hydrogen”.

Is it the fuel of the future?

Some say…

Of course, it is! Hydrogen is already powering trains and buses. Some companies are now using hydrogen to run charging stations for electric cars. Unlike coal and oil,it is a clean fuel that doesn’t pollute the air or produce CO2. Best of all, hydrogen is the most common element in the universe, so we have unlimited access to it.

Others think…

It’s not that simple. First, there are very few hydrogen charging stations, with only 11 in the UK. Second, there may be plenty of hydrogen in the universe, but it doesn’t occur naturally – it has to be chemically removed from water. At the moment, the main way to do this is to use fossil fuels. So, while hydrogen is clean, making it is not.

You Decide

  1. Would you rather ride in a hydrogen-powered train or an electric car?

Activities

  1. Make an advert for a new car that runs on hydrogen. Think of a name for the make of car and draw a picture of what it will look like.

Some People Say...

“Water will be the coal of the future.”

Jules Verne (1828-1905), French science fiction author.

What do you think?

Word Watch

H2O
The chemical symbol for water. One molecule of water is made up of two hydrogen atoms (H2) and one oxygen atom (O).
Airships
Also known as Zeppelins, these passenger aircraft are kept afloat by a giant balloon filled with a gas – such as hydrogen or helium – that is lighter than air .
Element
A pure substance that cannot be broken down by chemistry. There are more than 100 elements, and they make up the periodic table.
Risky
As hydrogen is highly explosive, very careful handling is needed to avoid danger.
Elon Musk
The entrepreneur and inventor of Tesla motor cars.
Chemically removed
Scientists use a chemical reaction to break water molecules down into hydrogen and oxygen.

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