What Are the Dangers of Hydrogen Gas?

Written by rod howell
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Hydrogen gas (H2) is one of the most abundant gases on Earth. This element is involved in all forms of life. Hydrogen can be found in light, air and water and in organisms. It is prominent in the formation of our galaxy, as well. One of the most popular combinations with hydrogen is oxygen, which makes water. Despite all the great aspects about hydrogen, this gas is very dangerous. Its combustible nature can be an extreme hazard to anything that comes into contact with it when it isn't used carefully.

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The Facts

Hydrogen is the lightest gas in our atmosphere. With only one proton, it is the simplest element on Earth. However, hydrogen is usually combined with another compound. Its presence stretches far into the sky since it makes up 90 per cent of the universe by weight. The stars in our solar system are primarily made of hydrogen, and the sun's core gets its radiant energy by the fusing of hydrogen and helium. Hydrogen burns clean, unlike most other fuels that emit carbon when on fire, like gasoline and diesel. It is also a lot safer to transport than those same fuels.

Benefits

Without hydrogen, our way of life would not be how it is. Hydrogen is a part of everything--from the radiant energy from the sun that makes all life possible to the combination with oxygen to make water our most needed resource. This gas is flexible since it can be used for fuel. Research is being done to determine if cars and homes can be powered by hydrogen with its abundant source and efficiency. The amount of hydrogen produced today for industry could power 5 to 8 million homes in the U.S.

Significance

The importance of hydrogen is evident by its association to all living organisms and how we understand our world scientifically. The lightest gas in our universe can make a very powerful bomb. This element doesn't exist in our atmosphere in the form of gas. We have to isolate it from other elements to get it in a vapour form. Electrolysis and steam reforming are two ways to accomplish this. The more expensive of the two, electrolysis splits the hydrogen from water. Steam reforming separates the hydrogen from the fossil fuel methane. Using this method ironically emits gases into the atmosphere which cause global warming, just to get a clean gas.

Misconceptions

Although hydrogen is a very dangerous gas, it is also a very useful source for energy. NASA uses hydrogen to fuel its missions into outer space. We are years away from having cars powered by hydrogen in mass numbers. The cost of building fuel cells and refuelling stations is too expensive at this point. Hydrogen is also used in plants that process foods and treat metals. Unlike other fuels, if hydrogen were to spill, it wouldn't damage an entire ecosystem like oil and gas spills have done. Hydrogen would just float into the air.

Warning

Hydrogen gas is very flammable and explosive. Just like other forms of fuels, hydrogen can store significant amounts of energy. Take extreme precaution when handling the gas. Hydrogen was allegedly to blame in the ill-fated flight of the Hindenburg. There was even speculation that hydrogen was a factor in the Challenger space shuttle explosion in 1986. Add the fact that the H-bomb is one of the most devastating weapons created by man. This leads to fears about using hydrogen in our daily lives.

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