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What are the Methods for Hydrogen Production?

By Larry Ray Palmer
Updated May 17, 2024
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Hydrogen is produced as a byproduct of industrial processes or harvested as a separate process for use in hydrogen fuel cells. Hydrogen production is accomplished through several different means. Some of the most common methods include steam reforming, hydrogen pinch, electrolysis, and thermolysis, or bio hydrogen production.

Steam reforming is the most common process used to harvest the hydrogen generated as a part of industrial processes. Using nickel as a catalyst, steam interacts with methanol at high temperatures to produce hydrogen and carbon monoxide. At lower temperatures, the resulting carbon monoxide can be further reformed to produce hydrogen and carbon dioxide. This method of hydrogen production has a 65% to 75% efficiency rate.

A further method of hydrogen production is called hydrogen pinch. This process shifts the use of the hydrogen throughout the areas of the hydro cracking process itself. The goal is to create a final process that does not produce or emit hydrogen. Any excess hydrogen is captured and used for other purposes.

Electrolysis and thermolysis is used to produce hydrogen on an industrial level. Also called water splitting, this method separates hydrogen molecules from oxygen molecules in water by passing electric current through the water. While the electrolysis part of the process can be effective without extra heat, the high temperatures of thermolysis make the yield of hydrogen much greater. In some cases, urine has been used in place of water, rendering the process 332% more efficient.

Bio hydrogen production creates useable hydrogen as a result of biological processes. Using fermentation, enzyme reactions, and electrohydrogenesis, hydrogen can be produced from biological materials and waste products. Fermentation uses bacteria to break down biological materials, producing hydrogen in the process. Enzymatic reactions use enzymes to create hydrogen from sugar products. Electrohydrogenesis is a bio-electrolysis process that is the result of microbes and the decomposition of wastewater or plant materials.

While it is already used as a clean energy resource to power some industrial processes, cost efficient methods of bulk hydrogen production must be developed for it to truly be seen as a competitive fuel option. By further development and research of hydrogen production methods, it is possible to create a hydrogen based economy, reducing the reliance on fossil fuels. As better and more efficient methods of producing hydrogen are discovered, these resources may be used as alternative fuel sources. This alternative fuel can be used to power hydrogen cars, industrial equipment, and other clean energy devices.

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Discussion Comments

By anon235494 — On Dec 17, 2011

It seems to me that what the human race us doing to our sphere is even more gross. Of course, using it for power, does not reduce it's bulk much, and it might be more efficient to do that recovery in the wastewater treatment plants.

I wish the 'Hydrogen Pinch" paragraph were not so jargoned or cryptic.

By sunnySkys — On Jul 30, 2011

@Azuza - While that does sound gross, I actually think the idea is kind of genius. Imagine using human waste to power your home or something like that?

Maybe the power systems of the future will hook up to the homes plumbing system and just reuse the waste. This would eliminate the need for city waste management systems and fossil fuel at the same time!

OK, maybe I'm reaching a little bit here, but I think when it comes to renewable energy the possibilities are endless.

By Azuza — On Jul 29, 2011

I'm all about new, more efficient and environmentally friendly ways to make energy. However, using urine for hydrogen production sounds just a little bit too gross for me.

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