Rights: The University of Waikato Published 30 May 2008 Download

Prof Richard Haverkamp, of Massey University, describes hydrogen as an energy carrier, and how it could replace non-renewable carbon-based fuels.


One of the more promising types of fuel cells is the hydrogen fuel cell, that’s the one that people have got to work the best.

Hydrogen has been proposed as an alternative energy carrier to carbon. So what an energy carrier is not, not so much a fuel – you’ve got to have a primary source of energy. So could be hydrocarbons, you know could be oil, it could be sunshine, it could be wind, it could be wave power, it could be nuclear energy - so you’ve ultimately got a primary source and then where you want to use that energy. So you might want to have something to power your car, you might have something to make your lights at home, and in between those two you've got to carry the energy there. So if its powering your lights at home you can carry the energy using aluminum wires that transmit the electricity from the power station to your home. But if its in the car or a portable place then you can't have them rigged up with wires, so you have to have some other means of transporting that energy. And at the moment that energy source is always carbon based, so we put petrol in our car generally or diesel. The worry is now that a lot of people believe that carbon dioxide emissions are causing global warming. So there is political pressure to get rid of using carbon in that way where you release carbon dioxide. Now there’s different ways of doing that. You could try and capture all that carbon dioxide and keep it and then deal with it some other way, or you could just not use a carbon source, but you could use something that doesn't have carbon in it, and the obvious example is hydrogen. If you burn that then you get water - nobody minds a bit of water in the environment. So the idea is to replace carbon based sources like hydro carbons, petrol, diesel other similar materials, methanol with hydrogen. So that the hydrogen is actually the energy carrier, because it’s - you can't mine hydrogen, you could never find hydrogen anywhere, its not an energy source, its just some way of carrying that energy that you have got from the source. So that is why we refer to hydrogen as an energy carrier.

Stefan Kühn
Toby Mills