What is hydrogen?
Hydrogen is the simplest element. Each atom of hydrogen has only one proton. Hydrogen is also the most abundant element in the universe. Stars such as the sun consist mostly of hydrogen. The sun is essentially a giant ball of hydrogen and helium gases.
Hydrogen occurs naturally on earth only in compound form with other elements in liquids, gases, or solids. Hydrogen combined with oxygen is water (H2O). Hydrogen combined with carbon forms different compounds—or hydrocarbons—found in natural gas, coal, and petroleum.
The sun is essentially a giant ball of hydrogen gas undergoing fusion into helium gas. This process causes the sun to produce vast amounts of energy.
Source: NASA (public domain)
Hydrogen is the lightest element. Hydrogen is a gas at normal temperature and pressure, but hydrogen condenses to a liquid at minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 253 degrees Celsius).
Hydrogen is an energy carrier
Energy carriers allow the transport of energy in a usable form from one place to another. Hydrogen, like electricity, is an energy carrier that must be produced from another substance. Hydrogen can be produced—separated—from a variety of sources including water, fossil fuels, or biomass and used as a source of energy or fuel. Hydrogen has the highest energy content of any common fuel by weight (about three times more than gasoline), but it has the lowest energy content by volume (about four times less than gasoline).
It takes more energy to produce hydrogen (by separating it from other elements in molecules) than hydrogen provides when it is converted to useful energy. However, hydrogen is useful as an energy source/fuel because it has a high energy content per unit of weight, which is why it is used as a rocket fuel and in fuel cells to produce electricity on some spacecraft. Hydrogen is not widely used as a fuel now, but it has the potential for greater use in the future.
Last updated: January 7, 2021