What are the Sources of Hydrogen? Exam-oriented Key Facts

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Get comprehensive knowledge on the sources of hydrogen with our exam-focused key facts. In this article, we aim to present exam-oriented key facts concerning various sources of hydrogen, including both natural and industrial production methods. By focusing on exam-relevant details, we aim to provide a concise and comprehensive overview of the diverse sources of hydrogen, ensuring a clear understanding for those preparing for examinations.

Sources of Hydrogen Introduction

  • Hydrogen, known as dihydrogen in its molecular form, is the most widespread element in the universe, accounting for a staggering 70% of the total mass.
  • It plays a crucial role as the primary element in the solar atmosphere.
  • Interestingly, the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn are predominantly composed of hydrogen.
  • However, hydrogen is relatively scarce in Earth’s atmosphere despite its cosmic prevalence, making up only 0.15% of its total mass.
  • Yet, hydrogen contributes significantly when we consider its combined presence, constituting 15.4% of the Earth’s crust and oceans.
  • In combined forms, hydrogen exhibits versatility, appearing not only in water but also within plant and animal tissues, carbohydrates, proteins, and various hydrides, including hydrocarbons.
  • Its presence is widespread in diverse compounds, showcasing the intricate role this element plays in the composition of our planet.
Sources of Hydrogen

Definition of Hydrogen

  • Hydrogen (H₂) is the simplest and most abundant element in the universe, making up about 75% of its mass.
  • It’s a basic molecule, consisting of just one proton and one electron.
  • On Earth, however, hydrogen is rarely found alone. It’s typically bound to other elements, such as oxygen in water (H₂O) or carbon in organic matter.
  • To extract and utilize hydrogen as an energy carrier, we need to separate it from these compounds. This can be done through various methods, including electrolysis, steam reforming, and biomass gasification.

Importance of Hydrogen as an Energy Carrier

Hydrogen holds immense potential as a clean and versatile energy carrier for the future, offering several advantages:

Clean Energy

  • When burned or used in a fuel cell, hydrogen produces only water vapor and heat, releasing no harmful emissions like greenhouse gases. This makes it a crucial player in tackling climate change and transitioning to a sustainable energy future.

Versatile Application

Hydrogen can be used in various applications, including:

  • Transportation: Powering fuel cell vehicles, buses, and even ships.
  • Electricity generation: Fueling fuel cells to produce clean electricity.
  • Industrial processes: Used in steelmaking, fertilizer production, and refining.
  • Heating and cooking: Replacing fossil fuels in residential and commercial applications.


  • Hydrogen can be stored in gaseous or liquid form, making it a viable option for storing excess renewable energy generated from sources like solar and wind.

Overview of Different Sources of Hydrogen

Currently, most hydrogen is produced through fossil fuels like natural gas and coal, resulting in significant carbon emissions. However, various cleaner methods are gaining traction, including:


Using electricity to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. This method is becoming increasingly efficient as renewable energy sources like solar and wind become more prevalent.

Biomass gasification

Converting organic matter like agricultural waste or wood into hydrogen through thermochemical processes. This method is carbon-neutral, as the biomass reabsorbs the released carbon dioxide during its growth.

Renewable methane reforming

Using renewable biogas or biomethane to produce hydrogen through steam reforming, similar to conventional methods but with a lower carbon footprint.

Photoelectrochemical water splitting

Directly converting sunlight and water into hydrogen using specialized materials. This technology is still in its early stages but holds significant promise for future hydrogen production.

The transition towards a hydrogen-based economy is still in its early stages, but with continued research and development, it has the potential to revolutionize our energy landscape and create a cleaner, more sustainable future.

Natural Sources of Hydrogen

While we often associate hydrogen with futuristic technology and clean energy, this remarkable element has deep roots in nature.

Earth’s Atmosphere

Presence of Hydrogen Gas

Though a trace element, hydrogen gas (H₂) does exist in our atmosphere, making up about 0.5 parts per million. This may seem insignificant, but it represents a vast reservoir of approximately 60 trillion tons of hydrogen – potentially enough to fuel our energy needs for centuries!

Hydrogen as a Trace Gas

This atmospheric hydrogen is primarily produced by the dissociation of water vapor due to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. However, its escape into space is limited by gravity, creating a delicate balance that contributes to Earth’s unique atmospheric composition.


Biological Processes

Plants and other living organisms play a crucial role in the natural production of hydrogen. During photosynthesis, they split water molecules, releasing oxygen and utilizing the extracted hydrogen to build carbohydrates and fuel their life processes.

Microbial Activity

Certain types of bacteria, known as anaerobes, thrive in environments without oxygen. These microorganisms break down organic matter like plant debris and manure, releasing hydrogen gas as a byproduct of their metabolic processes. This microbial activity contributes significantly to the natural hydrogen cycle in wetlands, marshes, and even our own digestive systems.

Geological Processes

Hydrocarbon Reservoirs

Deep beneath the Earth’s surface, oil and natural gas deposits often contain trace amounts of hydrogen. These fossil fuels are remnants of ancient organic matter that have undergone geological transformations over millions of years. The hydrogen trapped within these reservoirs can be extracted through specialized processes, although this raises concerns about the environmental impact of fossil fuel exploitation.

Natural Gas Fields

Certain natural gas fields, particularly those associated with volcanic activity, can exhibit higher concentrations of hydrogen. This “biogenic” natural gas is formed by microbial decomposition of organic matter within the Earth’s crust and represents a potentially cleaner alternative to conventional fossil fuels.

Industrial Processes

Steam Methane Reforming (SMR)

Explanation of SMR

Imagine natural gas (CH₄) dancing with high-pressure steam and a nickel catalyst at 800°C. This tango is SMR, where methane and steam split, yielding hydrogen (H₂) and carbon monoxide (CO).

Hydrogen Production from Natural Gas

SMR currently reigns supreme, producing over 95% of industrial hydrogen. It’s efficient and cost-effective, but a dark side exists: the CO byproduct generates greenhouse gases if not managed properly. Scientists are actively developing ways to capture and utilize this CO, paving the path for cleaner SMR processes.

Gasification of Biomass

Biomass as Feedstock

Plants, wood chips, animal waste – these renewable resources are nature’s gift for hydrogen production. Biomass gasification involves heating them in a limited oxygen environment, breaking down complex molecules into simpler gases like hydrogen, methane, and carbon dioxide.

Conversion into Hydrogen

The gas mixture undergoes further processing to remove impurities and isolate hydrogen. While less common than SMR, biomass gasification boasts a key advantage: it’s carbon-neutral. The CO₂ released gets reabsorbed by growing plants, creating a closed loop.

Electrolysis: Splitting Water with Electricity

Electrochemical Process: Picture water (H₂O) sandwiched between electrodes like a superhero in a vat. When zapped with electricity, the water splits, yielding hydrogen at the negative electrode and oxygen at the positive one – pure and simple.

Water Splitting to Produce Hydrogen: Electrolysis, powered by renewable energy sources like solar and wind, is the green champion of hydrogen production. It’s emissions-free and versatile, offering a future free from fossil fuels. However, current challenges lie in its higher cost compared to SMR and the need for efficient, large-scale renewable energy infrastructure.

Renewable Sources

In the race for clean energy solutions, hydrogen takes center stage, promising a future free from fossil fuels. But how do we generate this powerful element? Look no further than renewable resources like the sun, wind, and water – natural allies on our path to a sustainable future.

Solar Hydrogen

Photovoltaic Electrolysis

  • Photovoltaic electrolysis is a clean and sustainable method for hydrogen production that harnesses solar energy through photovoltaic cells.
  • In this process, sunlight is converted into electricity by the photovoltaic cells, generating a direct current that powers an electrolyzer.
  • The electrolyzer facilitates the electrolysis of water, splitting it into hydrogen and oxygen gases.
  • The overall reaction is (2H₂O + electrical energy \rightarrow 2H₂ + O₂).
  • The produced hydrogen can be collected for various applications, while the oxygen is typically released or utilized separately.
  • This approach offers a renewable and environmentally friendly means of generating hydrogen, with ongoing research focused on optimizing factors such as photovoltaic cell efficiency, electrolyzer design, and system integration to enhance overall efficiency and make photovoltaic electrolysis a more practical and widespread method for green hydrogen production.

Direct Photolysis

  • Ever dreamt of water directly transforming into hydrogen under the sun’s rays? Scientists are making that dream a reality with novel materials called photoelectrodes.
  • These special semiconductors directly split water molecules when exposed to sunlight, offering a potentially revolutionary, emission-free hydrogen production method.

Wind Hydrogen

Wind Turbines for Power

Picture wind turbines gracefully spinning in the breeze, capturing the kinetic energy of the wind and transforming it into electricity.

This clean power source can then be used to drive an electrolyzer, splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen.

This method perfectly pairs the reliability of wind energy with the versatility of hydrogen, creating a powerful duo for powering a sustainable future.

Electrolysis Using Wind Energy

The key here is the connection – surplus wind energy can be stored in hydrogen fuel cells for later use, ensuring a reliable and flexible energy supply. This method tackles the intermittency of wind power by “banking” the energy in the form of hydrogen, making it an attractive option for regions with abundant wind resources.

Biological Production of Hydrogen

While technology pushes boundaries in hydrogen production, nature has its own ingenious solutions. Enter the world of microbes and algae, microscopic partners in powering a clean future through biohydrogen production. Let’s explore these bio-based processes, where nature’s tiny factories churn out this eco-friendly fuel.

Microbial Biohydrogen Production

Microorganisms Involved

  • Forget robots and machines; hydrogen production goes organic with bacteria like Clostridium and anaerobic fungi.
  • These microscopic champions feast on organic matter like waste biomass or wastewater, utilizing fermentation processes to generate hydrogen as a byproduct.

Fermentation Processes

  • Hydrogen production through fermentation involves two main processes: dark fermentation and photofermentation.
  • In dark fermentation, anaerobic bacteria like Clostridium species break down organic substrates (e.g., sugars) to produce hydrogen gas and by-products.
  • Photofermentation utilizes photosynthetic bacteria, such as Rhodobacter species, which use light energy to convert organic substrates into hydrogen and by-products.
  • Both processes require substrate selection, microorganism optimization, and environmental factors for efficient hydrogen production.

Algal Hydrogen Production

Algae as Hydrogen Producers

  • Algae can be great at making hydrogen because they can use sunlight to turn water into hydrogen gas.
  • Some types of tiny algae have special enzymes that help them do this during a process called photosynthesis.
  • This happens when they use sunlight to make energy, and as a result, they produce hydrogen.
  • Algae have some cool advantages like growing quickly, needing little space, and being able to grow in different places, including wastewater.
  • This makes them useful for both cleaning up water and making hydrogen at the same time.
  • Even though there are still some challenges to figure out, like getting more hydrogen from algae and making the process bigger, scientists are working on it to make algae a powerful and eco-friendly way to produce hydrogen for renewable energy.

Photosynthetic Processes

  • Think of algae as tiny solar panels on a cellular level. Their chloroplasts act as mini-factories, where sunlight fuels the splitting of water molecules.
  • This process, known as photobiological water splitting, releases oxygen and, crucially, hydrogen. It’s nature’s elegant way of tapping into the sun’s bounty for clean energy.
  • These bio-based methods offer exciting possibilities for a future powered by nature’s microscopic workforce.
  • Microbial biohydrogen production utilizes waste materials, turning them into valuable fuel while treating wastewater.
  • Algae, on the other hand, directly capture sunlight and carbon dioxide, offering a sustainable and environmentally friendly approach.

Key Facts for Exam


  • Hydrogen (H₂) is the most abundant element in the universe, constituting 70% of total mass.
  • On Earth, hydrogen makes up only 0.15% of the atmosphere but is widespread in the Earth’s crust and oceans.
  • Hydrogen is versatile, present in water, plant and animal tissues, carbohydrates, proteins, and various hydrides.

Definition of Hydrogen

  • Hydrogen is the simplest and most abundant element, making up about 75% of the universe’s mass.
  • It consists of one proton and one electron.
  • On Earth, hydrogen is commonly bound to other elements like oxygen in water (H₂O) or carbon in organic matter.

Importance as an Energy Carrier

  • Clean Energy: Hydrogen, when burned or used in fuel cells, produces only water vapor and heat, emitting no harmful greenhouse gases.
  • Versatile Applications: Used in transportation, electricity generation, industrial processes, heating, and cooking.
  • Storage: Hydrogen can be stored in gaseous or liquid form, providing a means to store excess renewable energy.

Overview of Different Sources

  • Electrolysis: Splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity.
  • Biomass Gasification: Converting organic matter into hydrogen through thermochemical processes.
  • Renewable Methane Reforming: Producing hydrogen from renewable biogas with lower carbon footprint.
  • Photoelectrochemical Water Splitting: Directly converting sunlight and water into hydrogen.

Natural Sources of Hydrogen

  • Earth’s Atmosphere: Atmospheric hydrogen exists at about 0.5 parts per million, primarily produced by the dissociation of water vapor due to sunlight.
  • Biomass: Plants and bacteria contribute to natural hydrogen production through photosynthesis and microbial activity.
  • Geological Processes: Hydrogen is found in hydrocarbon reservoirs, and natural gas fields, and is associated with volcanic activity.

Industrial Processes

  • Steam Methane Reforming (SMR): Predominant method, using natural gas and steam to produce hydrogen and carbon monoxide.
  • Gasification of Biomass: Involves heating renewable resources to produce hydrogen, carbon-neutral due to CO₂ reabsorption.
  • Electrolysis: Splitting water with electricity, powered by renewable sources, offering emissions-free hydrogen.

Renewable Sources

  • Photovoltaic Electrolysis: Uses solar energy to generate electricity for water electrolysis.
  • Direct Photolysis: Novel materials split water directly into hydrogen using sunlight.
  • Uses wind turbines to generate electricity for water electrolysis.
  • Surplus wind energy can be stored in hydrogen fuel cells.
  • Microbial Biohydrogen Production: Bacteria generate hydrogen through dark fermentation and photofermentation processes.
  • Algal Hydrogen Production: Algae utilize sunlight during photosynthesis to produce hydrogen.

Future Potential

  • Hydrogen has immense potential as a clean and versatile energy carrier.
  • Ongoing research in various production methods, with a focus on renewable and environmentally friendly sources.
  • The transition towards a hydrogen-based economy is in the early stages, aiming for a cleaner and sustainable energy future.

More Notes on Chemistry:

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