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June 16, 2003
Volume 81, Number 24
CENEAR 81 24 p. 5
ISSN 0009-2347


ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCE

High-Flying Hydrogen's Hazards

MITCH JACOBY

Replacing petroleum with hydrogen as the principal energy carrier--as envisioned in a future hydrogen economy--may have detrimental consequences for the atmosphere, according to researchers at California Institute of Technology [Science, 300, 1740 (2003)].

Tracey K. Tromp, Yuk L. Yung, and their coworkers in Caltech's Division of Geological & Planetary Sciences and Jet Propulsion Laboratory used computational techniques to model the effects of widespread H2 use on atmospheric composition and chemistry. They contend that if all of today's technologies based on oil and gasoline combustion were replaced by H2 fuel cells, then emission of H2 to the environment caused by leaks and losses during commercial transport, storage, and usage would amount to about 10% of the total produced per year. The projected emissions are roughly five times greater than estimates of current anthropogenic H2 emissions--leading to a doubling or tripling of atmospheric H2 from all sources combined.

Oxidation of the emitted H2, the researchers predict, will increase the concentration of water vapor in the stratosphere by as much as 1 ppm. The increase in water will cool the stratosphere, they say, ultimately resulting in a larger and more persistent ozone hole.



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