• Question: If hydrogen is the most abundant material in the known universe could we not use it to power cars as it's flammable? And wouldn't the reaction only produce water?

    Asked by corange to Amy, Drew, Julia, Kimberley, Sara on 23 Jun 2011.
    • Photo: Drew Rae

      Drew Rae answered on 20 Jun 2011:

      hi Corange – you’re absolutely right. Unfortunately hydrogen isn’t very abundant on earth, and creating hydrogen takes as much energy as you get from burning it.

    • Photo: Julia Griffen

      Julia Griffen answered on 20 Jun 2011:

      Hydrogen is used to power cars! however its not burnt like we burnt diesel and petrol to power traditional cars in a traditional combustion engine…

      Hydrogen powered cars operate using fuel cells… how these work.. well the fuel cell is like a battery and at one end they have hydrogen and the other oxygen, they combine across the battery and produce water which produces alot of energy which can be used to power the car. As you say the reaction produces water. But also alot of energy!

      Of course you have the issue of how to safely store hydrogen in a car.. obviously we know its explosive! so scientists are looking at different materials to act as ‘hydrogen sponges’ to store the hydrogen safely which wont require such high pressures.

      You;ll find out alot more if you google hydrogen fuel cell.. much more info that I could ever type on here!

    • Photo: Amy MacQueen

      Amy MacQueen answered on 20 Jun 2011:

      Hi corange,

      As Julia said they are out there – Honda has made the FCX!



    • Photo: Sara Imari Walker

      Sara Imari Walker answered on 23 Jun 2011:

      Hi corange! It is certainly possible to use hydrogen as a fuel source. Looks like Julia and Amy have a great example in mind!

      The trick is getting the hydrogen. Hydrogen may be the most abundant element in the universe but that doesn’t mean it is abundant here on Earth! Hydrogen gas is so light in fact that it leaks out of our atmosphere and into space. The Earth’s gravity is just not strong enough to keep it bound to Earth. So, the only hydrogen we have on Earth is bound up in other things – water for example. We have to chemically extract it before we can use it. That added step can complicate things but not make them impossible. It just makes it a little trickier to work with hydrogen!