Social Impact Analysis (Hydrogen Fuel)

Last Updated: 07 Jul 2020
Essay type: Analysis
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The search for a renewable energy source has been a top priority to us a human race in the past decade. Many ideas have come in the form of wind, solar, and nuclear power, all having their own drawbacks. But, the one that will be focused upon in this analysis is hydrogen as a source of fuel, and the technology leading the way to making it a reality. This technology would affect everyone in one way or another if correctly used. So we must ask if this technology is beneficial to us, how it might hurt us, and whether it is worth pursuing from an ethical stance. Background:

Hydrogen has already been under the micro scope for many years as an alternative fuel source to us because of its abundance and power. We have simply been lacking the technology to employ it in an efficient way. But a recent break through might speed the process up of putting such a fuel in place in our modern market. A “team of researchers from Virginia Tech has discovered a way to extract large quantities of hydrogen from any plant” [1]. The research found a method to convert large quantities of hydrogen from the most plentiful plant sugar found on earth, xylose.

This method is most important because it extracts the hydrogen with little input energy and does so in an environmentally friendly manner. Hydrogen is one of the most abundant elements found on earth, yet it must be separated into its pure form, H2, before being used as a fuel. The problem is, with current methods pure hydrogen “is just too expensive and time-consuming to produce” [2]. Current methods often require more energy from other sources like natural gas or coal burning electric plants to extract the hydrogen, than the hydrogen can actually produce itself.

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So in turn, hydrogen fuel which has been looked at to solve pollution problems, has in the past caused just as much pollution to produce, and defeated its own purpose. That is where this new technology can completely change everything. To liberate the hydrogen, “Virginia Tech scientists separated a number of enzymes from their native microorganisms to create a customized enzyme cocktail that does not occur in nature” [1]. This enzyme cocktail releases the pure hydrogen from plant sources quickly, cheaply, and with little outside energy to do so.

These enzymes yield pure hydrogen from biomaterial at much higher quantities than previously possible. The hydrogen that is produced can be directly utilized by proton exchange membrane fuel cells. Possible Advantages: This advancement in technology reveals to us a multitude of possibilities and advantages. One of the easiest advantages to see has already been stated above. Hydrogen is massively abundant on earth, is renewable, and produces no harmful emissions when used as an energy source. Its number one emission is heat and clean water!

If used, hydrogen would lower our pollution output immensely, and would take us off the dependence of fossil fuels. Taking our dependence off of oil is the number one reason why so much money has been funneled into hydrogen research. America uses “one quarter” of all the oil produced in the world, yet we only account for “4. 6% of the world population” [5]. Imagine if we were able to make all vehicles hydrogen powered and the dramatic cut this would make to our green house gas emissions. That global warming doomsday clock we’ve all been so infatuated with would slow dramatically.

Hydrogen is a “very efficient fuel source” compared to “traditional sources of energy and produces more energy per pound of fuel”. In fact, hydrogen “is three times as powerful as gasoline and similar fossil fuels” [2], so in turn less is more. Switching to hydrogen fuel would mean “that we had to depend a lot less on foreign oil sources, lessening the need for international importation of fuel” [4] . All the stated above simply tells the physical advantages of hydrogen over current fossil fuels, but, bringing about this change could have economic and social possibilities as well.

This discovery could bring about the last piece to the puzzle in developing a whole new line of fuel efficient, environmentally clean cars. Honda has already produced a hydrogen fuel cell concept car they claim is “overall 64% energy efficient”. To put this into perspective in the average gasoline combustion engine “only about 20 percent of the thermal-energy content of the gasoline is converted into mechanical work”, making it 20% energy efficient [5]. This new line of cars could bring about jobs in the automotive industry and all industries that branch from it.

As of right now the commercial market for hydrogen gas produced from the use of fossil fuels is at about $100 billion. A majority of this hydrogen goes into producing fertilizers and petrochemicals [1]. All it would take is an inexpensive source of green hydrogen, such as the one recently discovered, to completely change this industry. Overall hydrogen has the ability to bring about jobs and continued advancements in every market and industry touched by it. This could be just about every industry when considering how important transportation and shipping are to the economy; hydrogen would give them an inexpensive fuel for transport.

Hydrogen fuel could do this all the while solving our most important problem of finding a renewable energy source. Potential Drawbacks: Even though hydrogen as a fuel seems to answer every problem we want it to; it also has setbacks. Although we have the technology now to bring us an endless supply of hydrogen fuel we do not have the storage or infrastructure capabilities for it. “Hydrogen is highly volatile. Special tanks have to be used to hold it and specially-pressurized pumps have to be used to convey it” [3].

And once more, these special tanks and pumps must be outfitted to work on vehicles as well. It would be at much cost to the government and in turn the taxpayer to quickly build and put in place the pipe lines, storage tanks, filling stations, and other vices needed to use hydrogen. Most people consider it “insane to even suggest that current fuel sources be replaced when what is already in place is working so well” [2]. In its pure, usable, gas form hydrogen is very explosive and the ramifications of putting it as our main source of fuel must be weighed out.

If not properly handled many people could lose their lives to it. Legislators will have to “create new processes for first responders to follow when they must handle an incident involving a fuel cell vehicle or generator. Engineers will have to design safe, reliable hydrogen delivery systems” [5]. In time hydrogen as a fuel may bring lowered costs to the consumer for transportaion fuels, power, and other chemicals, but seems that at first it will only bring higher costs. This will only make weaning us off fossil fuels more difficult.

People will not buy hydrogen technology until it is competitively priced, but competitive pricing seems still quite a bit away. As of now the cost of a hydrogen fuel cell is very expensive because of its many components, some of which contain precious metals like platinum. “In order to be competitively priced (compared to gasoline-powered vehicles), fuel cell systems must cost $35 per kilowatt. Currently, the projected high-volume production price is $73 per kilowatt. ” [5]. Should it be used?

In the case of this technology I think a utilitarian approach is key; more specifically an act-utilitarian approach. Act-utilitarian, in such that hydrogen fuel technology should be utilized in all areas available only if this action would maximize the good in the end. In my opinion the benefits outweigh the disadvantages/dangers when applying hydrogen fuel in a universally correct manner, and would maximize the end good for all humanity. So, I feel that full investment into the use of hydrogen would be the correct line of action.

This gives us the opportunity to act as engineers correctly under our code of ethics meeting several criteria: “using our knowledge and skill for the enhancement of human welfare and the environment”, and complying “with the principles of sustainable development in the performance of professional duties” [6]. Of course, as with every emerging technology there are failures and drawbacks. But, when these technologies are used correctly they have the ability to completely revolutionize how we do things for the better. Sometime, as in this case, the short term drawbacks caused to a few must be over looked for more the betterment of the masses.

Hydrogen fuel would answer problems that we have deemed most important for our future; green renewable energy and lowering our effect on the environment by pollution. The consequences of using hydrogen in the long run must be considered, and the temporary disadvantages such as costs and dangers must be ignored . Not every person can be pleased right away. These minor problems can be dealt with eventually. But, in the long run the benefits will continue to grow on themselves. The development of this technology must be continued until it has become common place as much as gas and other fuels are to us now.

With the problem of fossil fuels and their negative consequences out of the way, we as a human race are able to tackle our next great challenge. Works Cited [1] Virginia Tech. "Breakthrough in hydrogen fuel production could revolutionize alternative energy market. " ScienceDaily, 3 Apr. 2013. Web. 3 Apr. 2013. [2]“What is Hydrogen Energy”. Conserve Energy Future. Np. Nd. Web. 3 April 2013. <http://www. conserve-energy-future. com/Advantages_Disadvantages_HydrogenEnergy. php> [3] Leslie. Kim, “The Disadvantages of Hydrogen Fuel”.

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Social Impact Analysis (Hydrogen Fuel). (2017, Jan 17). Retrieved from

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