9.1. Historical Facts

One explosive event 13.7 billion years ago—the Big Bang—formed all the matter in existence. 380,000 years later, electrons were trapped in orbits around nuclei, forming the first atoms. These were mainly helium and hydrogen, which are still the most abundant elements in the universe by far.

In 1766, hydrogen was identified as an element by British scientist Henry Cavendish. This discovery led to his later finding that water (H2O) is made of hydrogen and oxygen.

In 1800, English scientists William Nicholson and Sir Anthony Carlisle discovered that applying an electric current to water produced hydrogen and oxygen gases. That was later called electrolysis.

In 1838, Swiss chemist Christian Friedrich Schoenbein combined hydrogen and oxygen gases to produce water and an electric current—the fuel cell effect.

In 1845, English scientist Sir William Grove demonstrated Schoenbein’s discovery on a practical scale by creating a gas battery, and earned the title “Father of the Fuel Cell”.

In the 1920s, German engineer Rudolf Erren converted the internal combustion engines of trucks, buses, and submarines to use hydrogen or hydrogen mixtures.

In 1959, English scientist Francis T. Bacon built the first practical hydrogen-air fuel cell, a 5 kW system that powered a welding machine. The same year, Harry Karl Ihrig, an engineer for the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company demonstrated the first fuel cell vehicle, a 20 hp tractor.

In 1990, the first solar-powered hydrogen production plant became operational at Solar-Wasserstoff-Bayern—a research and testing facility in southern Germany.

In 2000, Ballard Power Systems presented the first production-ready PEM fuel cell for automotive applications at the Detroit Auto Show.

In 2004, the first fuel-cell-powered submarine underwent deep water trials (German Navy).

Carlisle and Nicholson discovered the electrolysis (Credit: daviddarling.info)

9.2. Future projects

Kawasaki Heavy Industries has a project planned to create a large liquid-hydrogen carrier with a capacity of around 160,000 m3. This type of carrier will be necessary when hydrogen becomes widely used in society and hydrogen produced overseas at a low cost requires a method of transportation.

13 major companies in the energy, gas and automotive industries have joined forces to constitute the Hydrogen Council. This organization is founded with the intention of developing synergies related to the production, storage and applications of hydrogen.

Liquefied hydrogen carrier developed by Kawasaki Heavy Industries (Kawasaki.com)

9.3. future visions

In the future, renewable energy will be used to generate hydrogen, pipelines and hydrogen carriers will distribute it. Storage facilities near the end user will store hydrogen until it is used for transportation, fuel and heating. The transition could be led by households and local companies. If local people invest in the necessary infrastructure, they can share and circulate the benefits of hydrogen in their communities.

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