Hydrogen fuel cells were supposed to be the next big thing. Their promise peaked during the gas crisis of the 1970s as a clean energy source to power cars and electric plants, hydrogen fuel never truly took off. It was simply too expensive to make the stuff. As a result, hydrogen fuel has been mostly limited to labs, where engineers keep trying to use it to make better vehicles (a handful of vehicles and backup generators are hydrogen-powered, but they’re not exactly widespread).
But now we may have a way to drive that cost down. And that could finally make hydrogen fuel a viable, widespread source of clean energy.
Ammonia, a hydrogen-rich molecule, has recently surfaced as a source of the molecular hydrogen needed to generate electricity. Now, researchers have figured out how to extract that fuel and generate power without creating usual pollutants that come from using ammonia.
A quick chemistry lesson: Reacting hydrogen with oxygen gives rise to electricity. Its byproduct is only water, not those nasty greenhouse gases that come from burning oil or coal. But that hydrogen still needs to come from somewhere. A prime candidate: ammonia, an easy-to-store molecule made of three hydrogen atoms stuck to one atom of nitrogen.
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