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Hydrogen Fuel Basics

August 14, 2013 - 2:06pm


Hydrogen is a clean fuel that, when consumed, produces only water. Hydrogen can be produced from a variety of domestic sources, such as coal, natural gas, nuclear power, and renewable power. These qualities make it an attractive fuel option for transportation and electricity generation applications.

Hydrogen is an energy carrier that can be used to store, move, and deliver energy produced from other sources. The energy in hydrogen fuel is derived from the fuels and processes used to produce the hydrogen.

Today, hydrogen fuel can be produced through several methods. The most common methods are thermal, electrolytic, and photolytic processes.

Thermal Processes

Thermal processes for hydrogen production typically involve steam reforming, a high-temperature process in which steam reacts with a hydrocarbon fuel to produce hydrogen. Many hydrocarbon fuels can be reformed to produce hydrogen, including natural gas, diesel, renewable liquid fuels, gasified coal, or gasified biomass. Today, about 95% of all hydrogen is produced from steam reforming of natural gas.

Learn more from the EERE Fuel Cell Technologies Office about:

Electrolytic Processes

Water can be separated into oxygen and hydrogen through a process called electrolysis. Electrolytic processes take place in an electrolyzer, which functions much like a fuel cell in reverse.

Learn more about electrolytic hydrogen production from the EERE Fuel Cell Technologies Office.

Photolytic Processes

Photolytic processes use light as the agent for hydrogen production. Photobiological processes use the natural photosynthetic activity of bacteria and green algae to produce hydrogen. Photoelectrochemical processes use specialized semiconductors to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen.

Learn more about photobiological processes and photoelectrochemical processes from the EERE Fuel Cell Technologies Office.