Why isn’t white hydrogen from the air collected for use as fuel?

Why isn’t white hydrogen from the air collected for use as fuel?

November 19, 2022 19 By Amanda Giasson

Since H2 is the most common element, many wonder why it isn’t sourced naturally from the air.

White hydrogen is the name given to H2 that occurs naturally in the air.  Since it is the most abundant element in the Universe, it seems logical that we should simply be able to capture it from the atmosphere to use it as a carbon-free fuel.  That said, it isn’t as easy as it sounds.

As light as H2 is, any of it naturally occurring in the air will rise and disperse.hydrogen fuel cell news free ebook

As a result, very little white hydrogen occurs in the air around us, meaning that it is not simply waiting to be captured and used as a clean fuel source. The majority of white hydrogen isn’t available in the atmosphere as much as it is found in difficult – or impossible or unfeasible – locations. 

It is for this reason that the global effort to use H2 as a zero-carbon emission source of fuel are focused on sourcing it in different ways, nearly none of which involve drawing it out of the air.

what is white hydrogen and why don't we use it

That said, just because most research is focused on methods other than pulling H2 from the atmosphere, this doesn’t mean that it isn’t being researched at all. In fact, scientists recently published a paper in the Nature Communications journal in which they described a process that can produce H2 out of the humidity in the air.

This isn’t exactly white hydrogen, as it isn’t free-floating, but it is likely as close as we’ll come.

The method described by the scientists from the University of Melbourne’s Department of Chemical Engineering involve using the humidity from the air in an electrolyzer powered by renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.  This concept is meant to help to bring green H2 to remote regions that are traditionally low in liquid water, pulling the H2O straight out of the air.

The authors of the paper stated that their method has been successful in electrolyzing the water in the air’s humidity when it has been as low as 4 percent.

Indeed, this doesn’t capture free-floating white hydrogen out of the air, but it does make it possible to split the H2 out of the air’s humidity, even in areas where the air is quite dry.

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