Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (known as Paracelsus), a Swiss astronomer and alchemist, carried out the first experiment that produced hydrogen in the form of gas (H2) while treating metals with strong acids in his laboratory.
Anglo-Irish chemist Robert Boyle repeated Paracelsus’s experiment and discovered that the gas produced was flammable, naming it “flammable iron solution.”
French chemist Antoine Lavoisier gave the gas discovered by Paraceslus and Boyle the name hydrogen, thereby demonstrating that its combustion produces water.
Scientists Jan Rudolph Deiman and Adriaan Paets van Troostwijk managed to break down water into its constituent elements by generating sparks with the help of gold thread.
Chemists William Nicholson and Johann Wilhelm Ritter carried out the first experiment designed to perform electrolysis on water, using electricity to separate hydrogen and oxygen.
British physicist and chemist Michael Faraday published the two laws on electrolysis, known as Faraday’s Laws.
Sir William Grove, a Welsh judge and physicist, invented the fuel cell, an electrochemical device capable of converting the chemical energy of hydrogen and an oxidizing agent, oxygen, into electric energy.
French inventor Jean-Joseph Étienne Lenoir created the Hippomobile, a wagon with a two-stroke motor powered by a mix of hydrogen gas produced from the electrolysis of water.
August Wilhelm von Hoffmann invented the Hoffmann voltameter, a device for carrying out electrolysis on water that was also capable of measuring the quantity of hydrogen and oxygen produced in the process.
Zygmunt Florenty Wroblewsky, a Polish physicist and chemist, established the critical temperature of hydrogen, i.e. the temperature below which the element is present in liquid and not gaseous form, to be 33 Kelvin (-252,87°C).
Russian physicist and engineer Dmitry Lachinov outlined a method to achieve the electrolysis of water on an industrial scale.
Carl Bosch commercially launched the method patented by his colleague Fritz Haber. This went on to be known as the Haber-Bosch process.
The American company Standard Oil opened the first three plants for steam reforming, the process by which hydrogen is obtained from methane.
The Norsk Hydro electricity company transformed a lorry, equipping it with a reformer that extracted hydrogen from ammonia for use in internal combustion.
The technique for storing liquid hydrogen at low temperatures was perfected as part of the US project to develop the hydrogen bomb.
Liquid hydrogen was used as a fuel for the upper stage space rockets Centaur and Saturn, which were developed by NASA.
NASA equipped the capsule for the second Gemini mission with a hydrogen and oxygen fuel cell with a capacity of 1 kW, which also produced drinking water for the astronauts.
Roger Billings converted a Ford Model A van into a hydrogen vehicle, by transforming its internal combustion engine.
General Motors produced the GM Electrovan, the first fuel cell designed for the market. The project was later shelved on account of its prohibitively high costs.
Honda launched the Honda FCX; the first industrially produced car using fuel cells, the result of a project that began in the 1990s.
British company AFC Energy presented the first hydrogen fuel cell destined for research into electric cars.
Extremely efficient and does not produce emissions
- Hydrogen is the fuel with the highest energy density: 1kg contains the same energy as 2.4 kg of methane or 2.8 kg of gasoline.
- Thanks to the facility with which electrical energy can be converted into hydrogen, it is the most efficient energy vector available to us for storing surplus electricity production from renewable sources
- Another precious feature of hydrogen is the high conversion efficiency. In a car powered by hydrogen fuel cells, up to 60% of the chemical energy of the hydrogen is converted into motive power for the vehicle, while the mechanical yield of combustion engines using petrol or diesel varies from 20% to 35%.
- Hydrogen is widely used in industry, as it’s easy both to store and transport, for example in pipes like those used for gas.
- Hydrogen is the only fuel that, however it is used (whether in combustion engines or in fuel cells), does not produce polluting emissions, just water.