Hydrogen is the simplest element on earth—it consists of only one proton and one electron—and it is an energy carrier, not an energy source. Hydrogen can store and deliver usable energy, but it doesn't typically exist by itself in nature and must be produced from compounds that contain it.
Why Study Hydrogen Production
Hydrogen can be used in fuel cells to generate power using a chemical reaction rather than combustion, producing only water and heat as byproducts. It can be used in cars, in houses, for portable power, and in many more applications.
How Hydrogen Production Works
Hydrogen can be produced using diverse, domestic resources—including fossil fuels, such as natural gas and coal (with carbon sequestration); nuclear energy; and other renewable energy sources, such as biomass, wind, solar, geothermal, and hydro-electric power—using a wide range of processes.
Hydrogen can be produced:
- At or near the site of use in distributed production
- At large facilities and then delivered to the point of use in central production
- At intermediate scale facilities located in close proximity (25–100 miles) to the point of use in semi-central production.
Research and Development Goals
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) supports the research and development of a wide range of technologies to produce hydrogen economically and in environmentally friendly ways. View the hydrogen production pathways graphic to learn more about the time frames and production scales for these technologies.
The overall challenge to hydrogen production is cost. For cost-competitive transportation, a key driver for energy independence, hydrogen must be comparable to conventional fuels and technologies on a per-mile basis. In order for fuel cell electric vehicles to be competitive, the total untaxed, delivered and dispensed, cost of hydrogen needs to be less than $4/gge. A gge, or gasoline gallon equivalent, is the amount of fuel that has the same amount of energy as a gallon of gasoline. One kilogram of hydrogen is equivalent to one gallon of gasoline. This goal is based on thorough research with stakeholders, academia, and national labs. Learn more about DOE's hydrogen cost goal and the analysis used in projecting the future cost of hydrogen.
Also view related links that provide details about DOE-funded hydrogen production activities.
Download the Hydrogen Production section of the Fuel Cell Technologies Office's Multi-Year Research, Development, and Demonstration Plan for full details about technical targets, or view individual target tables for hydrogen production from:
- Biomass-derived liquid reforming
- Biomass gasification
- Thermochemical water splitting
- Photoelectrochemical water splitting
- Photobiological processes
- Microbial biomass conversion.
On April 30, 2014, the Energy Department announced the launch of a new project leveraging the capabilities of its National Laboratories in direct support of H2USA. The project is led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories and will tackle the technical challenges related to hydrogen fueling infrastructure. The Hydrogen Fueling Infrastructure Research and Station Technology (H2FIRST) project is designed to reduce the cost and time of fueling station construction, increase station availability, and improve reliability by creating opportunities for industry partners to pool knowledge and resources to overcome hurdles. The project was established by the Fuel Cell Technologies Office, drawing on existing and emerging core capabilities at the national labs.