The world is on the verge of an energy crisis. Roughly 789 million people globally don’t have access to electricity, yet most power comes from fossil fuels, which pollute the environment. Greenhouse gas emissions from these traditional energy sources contribute to climate change and impact air quality.
Fossil fuels present a bevy of issues to the environment and public health. At the same time, the world’s energy needs are rising. Renewables provide an answer, and hydrogen fuel cells may be ideal for this purpose.
The Need for Better Air Quality
Most discussions about fossil fuels focus on their impact on global warming. This issue is certainly one that demands attention, but it’s not the only threat carbon emissions present. Greenhouse gases lower air quality, which can result in fatigue, headaches and respiratory problems.
Prolonged exposure to air pollution can lead to more severe conditions like strokes or lung cancer. According to recent research, this costs the world $8 billion a day in medical bills and lost productivity. As the world expands its energy infrastructure, it needs to keep this air quality issue in mind.
How Hydrogen Fuel Cells Can Help
Of course, air quality isn’t exclusively a fossil fuel problem. Some air pollutants are natural, like pollen and mold, but reducing energy-related emissions would dramatically improve air quality. Hydrogen fuel cells provide an ideal replacement for fossil fuels since they don’t emit any greenhouse gases.
For consumers, hydrogen fuel cells work similarly to the fossil fuels they’ve become accustomed to, but they don’t produce emissions. The only byproducts of using hydrogen as a power source are heat and water, neither of which compromise air quality. Consumers can fuel up vehicles and generators similarly to how they already do without worrying about contributing to carbon emissions.
Hydrogen can also come from various sources and is more efficient than other fuel types. This flexibility and efficiency mean it could feasibly power virtually any process anywhere it’s needed. As the world looks to provide electricity for developing regions, hydrogen would be an optimal solution.
Hydrogen vs. Other Renewables
Hydrogen fuel cells aren’t the only emission-free energy source in the world. Solar and wind power already have extensive infrastructure, making them relatively accessible. While these may seem more viable than hydrogen in some cases, fuel cells have some advantages over them.
Solar power can only generate electricity during the day, so it’s less reliable for large-scale power grids. Developing nations would need expensive battery storage for solar to be a viable option. Wind turbines face a similar issue, only generating power in windy areas.
One potential downside to fuel cells is that most hydrogen comes from natural gas and crude oil, and the process of extracting it requires energy. As a result, hydrogen production often emits greenhouse gases. If new hydrogen infrastructure relied on other renewables in the extraction process, though, this would not be an issue.
Hydrogen Power Leads to Cleaner Air
Hydrogen fuel cells can provide reliable, scalable power that the world needs and do so without emissions. It’s the ideal solution for both the world’s energy and air pollution problems. Developing nations looking to add energy infrastructure have an opportunity to move away from fossil fuels.
Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co. Jane covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, green technology, renewable energy and more.