Hydrogen, the simplest and most abundant element on earth, is nontoxic. If we can use it to operate vehicles, we can reduce our carbon footprint as well as our dependence on oil. Since it does not exist naturally in its molecular form, it must be produced from other sources, typically fossil fuels. Production is rather expensive and usually involves undesirable emissions like carbon dioxide. That’s why Erik Koepf’s design could be so important. It does not produce those unwanted emissions, and the zinc oxide can be reused.
If the new solar reactor is successful in testing, Prasad says, “we can imagine a huge array of mirrors out in the desert concentrating sunlight up into a large central tower containing a larger version of Erik’s reactor and making hydrogen on an industrial scale.”
Vehicle manufacturers will surely follow Koepf’s research. Other new breakthroughs in fuel cell technology for cars are already pointing to ways of bringing down the cost of manufacturing, but the system needs to be optimized before hydrogen powered cars will be affordable to the general public. In 2010, the Hawaii Hydrogen Initiative was launched with the goal of developing a hydrogen infrastructure in the state. Hydrogen can also be used to power airplanes and boats, and the U.S. military has had investments in hydrogen power for years. Work continues on the challenges of hydrogen fuel storage.