U.S. Water News Online
WASHINGTON -- Hydrogen fuel cells, the widely hailed
pollution-free energy source of the future, may turn out not to be so
kind to the Earth, scientists said recently.
Providing the hydrogen needed by all those fuel cells might create
a cloudier, cooler planet, with larger and longer-lasting atmospheric
ozone holes over the poles, said researchers from the California
Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
Hydrogen fuel cells are seen as potentially emissions-free energy
sources for everything from automobiles to homes, replacing fossil
fuel engines and eliminating the noxious pollutants that damage lungs
and build up heat-trapping gases cited in theories of global warming.
But in producing and transporting hydrogen needed to fuel the
aspiring technology, roughly 10 percent to 20 percent of the gas can
be expected to leak into the atmosphere, the report in the journal
Quadrupling the levels of hydrogen gas -- actually two molecules
of hydrogen -- in the air from the current 0.5 parts per million
would create more water vapor in the stratosphere as the hydrogen
combines with oxygen, resulting in more cloud cover, the report said.
Computer models used by study author Tracey Tromp suggested
stratospheric temperatures could cool by 0.5 degrees Celsius, slowing
the arrival of spring in the North and South polar regions and
expanding the size, depth and longevity of the ozone holes.
Less ozone in the upper atmosphere, which allows more of the sun's
dangerous rays to reach the Earth and has increased skin cancer
risks, is widely blamed on mankind's release of now-banned
chlorofluorocarbons, chemicals used in refrigerants and as
The ozone layer was expected to recover in 20 to 50 years as
chlorofluorocarbon levels ease, though an injection of hydrogen into
the atmospheric mix might worsen the problem, the report said.
More hydrogen in the air would likely also have a direct impact on
the Earth's teeming surface, as it is a nutrient for microbes, it
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