Aside from the cost of producing hydrogen, the problem of containing is what’s stopping the widespread adoption of this fuel. Since it is a single molecule, it is so tiny that it cannot be contained by a conventional automobile gas tank, for instance. But if we could design motors that manufactured more hydrogen as they ran, similar to the way hybrid cars manufacture electricity to recharge their batteries, hydrogen could become a viable alternative fuel.

Scientists at North Carolina State University have discovered a method using carbon nanotubes that requires only half the energy currently needed to break up water molecules, which are two parts hydrogen to one part oxygen, and release the hydrogen. Carbon nanotubes are so small that it would take 1,000 of them stacked on top of one another to equal the thickness of a human hair.

Despite government proclamations about a future filled with hydrogen cars, the fact is that this technology may never be a viable way to run an automobile, because it’s impossible to keep hydrogen fuel inside a gas tank. Hydrogen is also extremely flammable, but the water it’s extracted from isn’t. If we could fill up our gas tanks with water and extract hydrogen from it inside our engines as we drove along, releasing only harmless water vapor instead of greenhouse gas, this would be the ultimate in a low pollution, high mileage vehicle. Future scientific breakthroughs will show us if this is possible.

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