Hydrogen, the most common element in the universe, can release large amounts of energy under the right conditions with no polluting byproducts. These qualities make hydrogen an attractive alternative fuel source, especially for powering vehicles via hydrogen fuel cells. Using hydrogen as a fuel presents several disadvantages and challenges, though, which must be worked around before it can be widely used to power vehicles.
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Hydrogen naturally occurs only in combination with other elements, such as with oxygen to form water. Separating it from those elements and compressing it into a liquid form is costly, requiring extensive energy input. Storage and transportation of hydrogen fuel requires specialised tanks that are themselves expensive to produce. As of December, 2010, cars that run on pure hydrogen cost around $3 million, making them inaccessible to most individuals.
Producing hydrogen by separating it from other elements requires extensive energy inputs, which reduces the overall efficiency of hydrogen as a fuel. Fossil fuels such as oil or coal are often used in the production of hydrogen, either as the material from which hydrogen is extracted, or to provide electricity to separate it from water through electrolysis. Using fossil fuels to produce hydrogen may defeat the purpose of its benefits as an alternative energy source.
A powerful, easily ignited element, hydrogen has a reputation as an unsafe energy source. Hydrogen's reputation puts the fuel at a disadvantage, but proper technologies can make it as safe as conventional gasoline internal-combustion engines. Industry and government have used hydrogen as a fuel for over 40 years. Pure hydrogen fuels NASA's space shuttles. However, using hydrogen as a fuel at the consumer level would require extensive public education on safety expectations and procedures.
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