If you had a pair of special scientific goggles that allowed you to see all of the elements around you, you would see a great abundance of Hydrogen—not just on this planet, but everywhere. As the most common material in the universe, Hydrogen plays an important role in the lives of all living creatures.
An Essential Building Block
Hydrogen was first produced in 1671 when Robert Boyle was experimenting with acids and iron. However, it was nearly 100 years before Henry Cavendish recognized in as an element in 1766. It was later named hydrogen for the Greek “hydro” meaning water and “genes” meaning forming, since Hydrogen is an essential component of water.
This element has one of the lowest melting and boiling points of any on the periodic table. It is also tasteless, colorless, odorless, and highly flammable when in its most common gaseous form (at room temperature).
Despite the fact that pure Hydrogen is rare on Earth, the element is still incredibly common due to the fact that’s present in water and ice, as well as almost every other carbon compound (and therefore almost every other living cell on the planet).
Some of the most common Hydrogen compounds are, of course, water, hydrogen peroxide, methane, chloride, and ammonia. Though it is most commonly a gas, Hydrogen can also be liquid, slush, solid, and metallic.
The Wave of The Future
Hydrogen has a great deal of practical applications that are still emerging, but one of the oldest (and now obsolete) was as a means of flotation. Popular for use in German Zeppelins, Hydrogen was an unfortunate choice to float these airships due to the fact that it is so highly flammable.
When the Hindenburg caught fire, the world’s collective horror put to bed the prospect of continued use of Hydrogen in that capacity. Instead, the world moved on to other applications, particularly in terms of chemicals.
One of the primary uses of Hydrogen is to make ammonia as part of an agricultural fertilizer. Other chemical uses include refining oil to remove sulfur, and as a means of hydrogenating oils to create fats like margarine.
Perhaps more exciting is the prospect of Hydrogen becoming a clean fuel source. Since Hydrogen contains a great deal of potential energy, a fuel cell that runs on it need only be fed Hydrogen (since Oxygen is abundant in the Earth’s atmosphere). Hydrogen can even be produced through clean system like solar panels.
What’s more, the only emission from this sort of engine is water. This is hard to imagine considering the harmful byproducts that currently result from internal combustion engines, but it’s true.
Though Hydrogen doesn’t affect everyday life in a way that feels concrete or material, it plays a huge role in bodily function and health.
Of course, the human body is 60% water. This in and of itself speaks to the critical importance of hydrogen to everyday life, but beyond this, consuming water allows humans to transport nutrients while eliminating toxins and waste.
Additionally, Hydrogen is critical to energy production. When you eat, many elements in the food are broken down and expelled, but Hydrogen makes its way to the mitochondria and powers your body’s cells, so you have the energy to function in your daily life.
It may feel difficult to believe that Hydrogen is so very abundant and so very important when it is impossible to see, but sometimes the most important things are the ones that do their jobs without receiving attention for it.