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Hydrogen: the fuel of the future
Researching clean energy technology must become a priority before it is too late
Published 8/25/2011
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The start of an academic year is always an exciting time. The dreams and aspirations of thousands of students are at stake. All of which could come crashing down if the financial markets continue on their current path of uncertainty, and especially if the U.S. defaults on its loans. The U.S. owes more money to its investors than it can pay back. More worryingly, the situation can only deteriorate further with the ever-looming energy crisis and the continual volatility in the Middle East. Much to our solace though, a possible energy solution might be at hand.

Hydrogen fuel cell based energy generation has been researched and proven to be a viable long-term risk and emissions free solution. The concept itself is deceptively simple. A hydrogen atom is broken down with the help of a catalyst. This reaction generates electricity and produces heat and water as byproducts. The obstacle, however, is the bulk production of hydrogen needed for energy generation. Added to it is the intricacy of using the right catalyst to make the reaction faster and cheaper for large scale energy production.

According to the BBC, a study published in Science magazine claims to have taken us a step further toward achieving this goal. In essence, scientists have been able to use the way of microbes, which are known to use naturally occurring enzymes — a biological catalyst of sorts — to speed up the reactions using cheap and abundantly available elements like iron and nickel. However, these naturally occurring enzymes are quite arduous to obtain. This is where researchers have managed to discover a synthetic version of these enzymes with the added bonus of them being at least 10 times faster, in terms of reaction times, than the ones that occur naturally.

The most vital contribution of this discovery will be the real world applications it will spawn. This discovery, and its subsequent improvements, will allow us to move away from fossil fuel based energy consumption. It will also help us conserve our environment to a large extent. To put things into perspective, according to the EIA (U.S. Energy Information Administration), 83 percent of U.S. electricity is derived from non-renewable resources. Renewable resources produce only about eight percent of electricity. These figures could be improved dramatically with the addition of large-scale production of electricity based on hydrogen fuel cells, while maintaining practically zero emissions.

President Barack Obama’s administration has recognized the importance of renewable energy resources and, correspondingly, plans to lessen dependence on fossil fuels. In his 2012 budget, Obama proposed $8
billion to be spent on researching renewable and alternative energy resources, according to Reuters. This will go hand in hand with the proposed cuts of subsidies to oil, coal and gas industries, which do not need any assistance from the government to stay afloat. Furthermore, providing the right kind of impetus to new technologies like hydrogen fuel cells and other clean energy technologies has the potential to create millions of jobs.

It is high time we seize our future before time runs out and we are forced to pay for our incognizance. The need of the hour is to further active participation and good investments into researching technologies like hydrogen fuel cells for clean energy. You never know, we might just end up saving the jolly polar bear after all.

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