Hydrogen is one of the most abundant elements in existence. It is the first element on the periodic table, because it has an atomic number of one and only contains one proton. In fact, all the other elements’ order on the periodic table and the organization of the periodic table itself is based on hydrogen. It makes up 90% of all the atoms in the universe. Hydrogen only has 1 valence electron, but its ionization energy is actually greater than lithium. It was originally recognized as being a separate substance by Cavendish in 1776. Hydrogen is a flammable gas. Some people at the time thought it was pure phlogiston because of its extreme flammability. It is found in stars, and is an essential component of most planetary bodies. Hydrogen gas is one of the lightest gases. Because hydrogen is light enough to escape the Earth’s gravitational pull, only a miniscule amount of it is found floating freely in the Earth’s atmosphere. On Earth, almost all hydrogen “deposits” are present in combination with oxygen (which forms water), and in organic matter (plants, coal, etc.).
Ironically, hydrogen is hard to obtain in formidable quantities, despite the fact that it makes up most of the universe. Most hydrogen is produced from natural gas or coal (creating Carbon Dioxide as a by-product). Hydrogen can be separated from water by using a process called electrolysis. During electrolysis, a current of electricity is passed through the water. Water then separates into two gases, oxygen and hydrogen. Hydrogen by itself cannot be detected without special equipment, because it is an odorless and colorless gas. Hydrogen can be harvested into energy, and could even potentially fuel cars and provide heating for homes. An essential problem of using hydrogen for energy stems from the fact that it has to be separated by electrolysis. If it were separated in mass quantities, then electric generators would have to be built. To power these generators, more energy from the fossil fuels would have to be used than the amount that would be harvested from the hydrogen.
The major use of hydrogen is in ammonia, which is used as a fertilizer. It can also make methanol, gasoline, and even rocket fuel. Currently, scientists are attempting to develop an efficient car powered by hydrogen fuel cells, which can be mass-produced. The current presidential administration announced plans to use about 1.7.billion dollars in order to fund fuel cell research for hydrogen. The president, George “Dubbya” Bush, has even dubbed these hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles “Freedom Cars”. There will be quite some time, however, before these hydrogen cars will actually begin to replace today’s vehicles, because of the difficulties of harvesting the energy in an economically efficient manner.
Hydrogen can also exist as a liquid and as a liquid metal. In 1972, a group of Russian scientists may have formed metallic hydrogen. Theoretically, hydrogen turns into an incredibly hot liquid metal under extreme pressure. For example, metallic hydrogen is theorized to be in Jupiter, where the interior pressure is much greater than on Earth. This is quite possible, considering how much hydrogen Jupiter contains. Hydrogen has recently been successfully turned into a metal by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which used shock-compression technology in order to transform it into a metal. Liquid hydrogen is somewhat easier to create, and it is also known as deuterium. It is the second isotope of hydrogen. It is used in cryogenics and the study of superconductivity. Its melting point is a mere 20 degrees above absolute zero. Tritium is the heaviest isotope, and it is radioactive (with a half-life of 12.3 years). Tritium is found around the sun. It can be created with a nuclear bombardment of deuterium with hydrogen molecules. It can also be created in nuclear reactors. The hydrogen bomb contains tritium as the primary substance, so obviously tritium has a very good potential for destruction.
Hydrogen is one of the most important elements because it composes most of the universe, and can potentially give off a large amount of energy. Hydrogen has some very promising capabilities, and can become much more useful than it is now if properly harvested and applied.