Many environmentalists are claiming that hydrogen can solve all of the world's energy troubles. But they do not understand the science behind the production, storage, and use of hydrogen gas. There are several things wrong with their beliefs:

"I'm making hydroge.... " (gurgle gasp clunk)

DANGER!     Do not try this at home. Breathing the resulting gases can be fatal.

Many environmentalists claim that adding salt to water "speeds" or "catalyzes" the electrolysis of water, to produce hydrogen and oxygen with less energy. It does not speed the reaction. It CHANGES the chemical reaction.

The original chemical reaction produced by an electric current in pure water (with a sulfuric acid electrolyte added for conductivity) is:

2 H2O + energy -> 2 H2 + O2

The hydrogen gas bubbles out of the water at the negative electrode, and the oxygen gas bubbles out at the positive electrode.

But when salt is added to the water, a completely different chemical reaction takes place. The current takes apart the salt with the water, producing different substances as products of the reaction:

2 H2O + 2 NaCl + energy -> H2 + Cl2 + 2 NaOH

Instead of totally taking the water molecule apart, the electricity finds it easier to take the salt apart, and then use that to take one hydrogen atom out of the water. So, instead of making breathable oxygen gas, it produces poisonous chlorine gas. Chlorine is the gas the Germans used in World War I to kill enemy soldiers, by burning their lungs.

The hydrogen gas bubbles out of the water at the negative electrode, and the chlorine gas bubbles out at the positive electrode. The sodium hydroxide left in the tank is a poison too. If you pour it concentrated down the drain, it might eat the drainpipe. (In diluted form, it is drain cleaner.)

Anyone trying to make large volumes of hydrogen could end up poisoning himself and others.

Also note that only HALF of the hydrogen emerges as gas when salt is added. The rest is locked up in the sodium hydroxide.

The proper electrolyte to use for electrolysis of water must take apart only the water. This means that it must meet these specifications:

  1. It must not chemically change to produce a gas.
  2. It must not chemically change to produce a precipitate.
  3. It must not be used up in the process.
  4. It must dissolve in water to produce charge carrier ions.
  5. It must not oxidize.
  6. It must cause water to dissociate.

The usual electrolyte that meets these criteria is sulfuric acid.

Note that, since dissociating water is an ENDOTHERMIC reaction (uses up energy), there is no way to catalyze it to increase efficiency. Catalysts reduce the energy needed to activate EXOTHERMIC reactions (gives off energy). So the search for a "catalyst" to increase the efficiency of making hydrogen is a waste of time. Note that chlorophyll is technically not a catalyst. It is a solar-powered enzyme.


DANGER!     Hydrogen cars in poor repair may leak hydrogen gas.

If hydrogen cars get into the bad states of repair that gasoline cars can get into, expect explosions in cars and garages (where an electrical spark from a garage-door opener relay could set off the hydrogen).

Fueling stations could also be the scene of spectacular explosions, especially if someone collides with the pump or tears loose a hose. A pressure-loss safety valve won't do any good if the valve is torn off by the accident.

Although they downplay this, auto accidents could be the scenes of fantastic explosions where pressurized hydrogen is released from a ruptured tank in the car.

Hydrogen flames are almost invisible in sunlight. A bystander or firefighter could walk into the fire without realizing it, until it is too late.

The Space Shuttle Challenger and the Hindenburg disasters were hydrogen explosions. The claim that the Hindenburg was a Thermit reaction has been refuted.

I don't want to drive a Hindencar.

Why am I sunburned again???

DANGER!     Leaking hydrogen may deplete the ozone layer.

The hydrogen cars in the bad states of repair mentioned above are also adding hydrogen to the atmosphere. Hydrogen gas rises, all the way up to the ozone layer.

Scientists now say that this hydrogen could destroy the ozone layer faster than chlorofluorocarbons. It would change the protective ozone into water. The water then falls to a lower level of the atmosphere, removing the oxygen needed to make more ozone. The result would be a large increase in ultraviolet radiation from the sun reaching the earth.

So hydrogen is also not a totally clean technology on the user end. I can't imagine ANY regulatory program that could prevent all of these leaks. Government is innately too inefficient.

Pssssssssssst. Hydrogen leaks cause sunburn.

It's NOx-ious

Burning hydrogen makes nitrogen oxides.

Hydrogen gas burned with air produces the same nitrogen oxides that fossil fuels produce.

Again, hydrogen is also not a totally clean technology on the user end.


Hydrogen doesn't save any energy. Even more energy is used up to produce the hydrogen.

Hydrogen gas does not just magically appear. There are no hydrogen wells or hydrogen mines. Some other source of energy must be used to produce the hydrogen. More energy will be used producing the hydrogen than is later obtained from burning the hydrogen. That extra energy needed is the ENERGY PENALTY of using hydrogen:

  1. Electrolyzing water:
    • The electrolysis of water requires exactly the same amount of chemical energy to split the water as is recovered when the hydrogen is burned. But not all of the energy input in the form of electricity goes into the chemical reaction. Some of the electrical energy is changed into other forms - ENERGY PENALTIES:
      1. Energy is used to physically move the hydrogen and hydroxyl ions to the correct electrodes.
      2. Some of the energy is lost heating the water.
      3. More energy is lost compressing the hydrogen into a form it can be stored in.
      4. ALL of the salt must be removed from salt water BEFORE it can be electrolyzed, if we don't want a massive waste-chlorine problem. This requires a powered distiller.
    • The usual loss is about 40 percent of the power used. That means each 100 joules of energy stored in hydrogen requires 160 to 170 joules to prepare that amount of hydrogen from fresh water. That's a 60% ENERGY PENALTY. In other words, besides 100% of the energy you actually use, you waste an additional 60%, for a total of 160%.
    • Even more energy is needed if the water used is salt water. Each 100 joules of energy stored in hydrogen requires 500 to 550 joules to prepare that amount of hydrogen from salt water. FIVE TIMES as much energy is used to produce the hydrogen. That's an 80 percent loss, or a 400% ENERGY PENALTY! Yet, the proponents of hydrogen power keep mentioning all of the "free" hydrogen in the oceans. But the energy in that hydrogen is already spent.
    • Even more energy is needed to compress the hydrogen for storage.
    • They also forget that some OTHER energy from an external source is needed to make the electricity to store 20% to 60% of that energy in the hydrogen and waste the rest in ENERGY PENALTIES. So even more electrical power plants are required, producing even more pollutants.
  2. Converting hydrocarbon compounds:
    • There are chemical reactions that can "strip" hydrogen from hydrocarbons. This also has ENERGY PENALTIES:
      1. The energy stored in the hydrocarbon was greater before it was disrupted by the process.
      2. Energy from an external source is used up to cause the disruption to take place.
      3. More energy is lost compressing the hydrogen into a form it can be stored in.
      4. The other product of the disruption is similar to charcoal. It contains energy, but obtaining that energy negates the advantage of using the hydrogen. It produces all of the CO2 the original hydrocarbon would have produced.
  3. Using an acid on a metal to get hydrogen:
    • There is a heavy ENERGY PENALTY for using acids and metals:
      1. The amount of energy required to refine metals is large. To use up the metal to make hydrogen is a waste of energy.
      2. It also takes large amounts of energy to make acids strong enough to react with the metal at high rates.
      3. More energy is lost compressing the hydrogen into a form it can be stored in.
      4. The resulting salt must also be used or disposed somehow.
  4. Mining space to get hydrogen:
    • There is not just the ENERGY PENALTY here. There is also an environmental penalty:
      1. There is the energy needed to launch the rocket, sweep space for hydrogen, and bring it back.
      2. Additional energy is needed to gather and compress the hydrogen. Otherwise, it would just escape into space again.
      3. There is a hazard of overheating the hydrogen during re-entry. This could rupture the tank.
      4. Bringing hydrogen to earth will change the ratio of hydrogen to oxygen on the surface of the earth. This will reduce the amount of oxygen available for breathing.
  5. Stupid schemes that can't possibly work:
    • All of the following are schemes that are touted as, and even sold as "energy savers." They use up more energy than if nothing at all is done to save energy:
      1. The device that plugs into house current and produces hydrogen for use in a vehicle has the problem that the owner's electric bill will go up more than his gasoline bill will go down. Remember that 60% ENERGY PENALTY mentioned above? That 60% ENERGY PENALTY is the cause of this. Also, since the power company is making more power, those emissions go up too.
      2. The device that connects to a car generator and produces hydrogen from water supplied from an accessory tank will use more gasoline than doing nothing to the car will use. The ENERGY PENALTY happens in the car too. It takes 60% more energy from the car engine to make the hydrogen, compared to the energy that same hydrogen could possibly add to the energy of the engine as a fuel. So you get fewer miles per gallon.
      3. Searching for a "catalyst" that will reduce the energy needed to electrolyze water is a waste of time. No such catalyst can possibly exist. Catalysts reduce the activation energies of exothermic reactions. Since electrolyzing water is an endothermic reaction, no such aid is available. All of the chemical energy that actually goes into the hydrogen is the same energy recovered when the hydrogen is burned.
      4. Using the energy from existing hydrogen to make more hydrogen is a total waste of energy. Since there is a 60% ENERGY PENALTY each time you make hydrogen, the total energy penalty is around 180%. Put another way, the energy from 60 cubic feet of hydrogen can make 36 cubic feet of hydrogen. 14 cubic feet of hydrogen is lost in the process, with nothing gained in return
    • All of these are effectively perpetual-motion schemes. Perpetual motion is impossible. Anyone who claims that any of these schemes will work is a nut, not an energy expert.

The lesson to be learned is:

Much more energy can be had by using the original energy source for the energy as it is, compared with the lower amount of energy available by converting that original energy into hydrogen and then burning the hydrogen.


Here are some uses of hydrogen that are not futile pursuits:

  1. Hydrogen can be used if it is made with power that would otherwise be wasted. Here, the energy penalty of making and storing hydrogen does not count, because the energy penalty is otherwise infinite.
    • An example is a photovoltaic system that overproduces on a sunny day, in order to keep up production on other days. The extra power can't be shut off, so it can be used to make hydrogen.
  2. Hydrogen is needed for fuel for space rockets. Nothing else works as well for propulsion without adding too much weight.
  3. Hydrogen is also useful where the energy source is not portable, but the end user must be.