Air pollution is a growing health and environmental issue in cities around the world, especially where economic growth is increasing the number of vehicles on the road.
Most vehicle emissions release greenhouse gases and other pollutants into our environment. Greenhouse gases are produced when fossil fuels like gasoline, coal and natural gas are burned.
In the past century, there has been a sharp increase in the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. Consequently, the earth’s average temperature is rising, with serious consequences for the earth’s ecosystems and humankind. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Control, increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are responsible for over 60% of the greenhouse effect. The primary cause is the burning of fossil fuels.
Hydrogen, the Earth’s most abundant energy carrier and fuel source, emits low or zero greenhouse gases, which will help slow the threat of global warming; and is sustainable, meaning that nothing is depleted faster than it can be replenished and continued use does not change the environment.
Hydrogen can be produced with almost any source of energy, and therefore can play an important role in a fully sustainable energy system for transportation as well as for buildings. Wind, solar, wave, geothermal, nuclear and other forms of renewable or low greenhouse gas producing energy can be used to generate hydrogen through electrolysis.
In addition to reducing greenhouse gases (responsible for climate change), when hydrogen is used in a fuel cell vehicle, it has no polluting exhaust – its only tailpipe emission is pure water vapour. Alternative energy carriers such as hydrogen combined with devices like fuel cells account for only a small percentage of the energy systems in use today. But that percentage is growing as fossil fuel costs rise and supplies dwindle over the coming decades.
Even if we continue using fossil fuels to make hydrogen while our understanding of hydrogen applications is evolving, the picture is encouraging. With fossil fuels used in internal combustion engines, there is no way to ‘capture’ the emissions from the tailpipes. By making hydrogen from fossil fuels at stations where the emissions can be controlled and captured, we can avoid the air polluting emissions that we have today from vehicles. Due to increased overall efficiency, this could also help extend the life of fossil fuels, making for a smoother transition to renewable and sustainable sources.
Source: Government of Canada, Our Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Future website