Uses of hydrogen can be listed in terms of its plain gaseous uses and also elemental applications. But in both ways, it finds distinct uses that are not replaceable by other elements or gases.
Hydrogen is available as natural gas in nature. But in pure form, it is highly inflammable. Further, it is also available in the form of isotopes like deuterium, tritium, etc. All these properties of hydrogen contribute to its uses.
Important Uses of Hydrogen
- Gas welding
- Automobile fuel.
- In petroleum refinery
- Ultraviolet lamps
- Production of electricity
- As a reducing agent
- Potentiometry and Chemical analysis
- Structural identification
- In gas chromatography
- In hot balloons
- Rocket fuel for space programs
- Mass destructive bombs
Hydrogen is the first element in the periodic table. Its atomic number is one and its weight is 1.008. It is one of the stable natural gas available in the universe. Besides, it is also part of many biomolecules like carbohydrates, proteins, fats, etc. So, it has a wide variety of uses as described below.
1. Gas welding: A common use of hydrogen gas is in the gas welding process. It is used in this type of welding to generate a high temperature of 4000°C. This high temperature leads to the melting of metals and thereby joining the broken surfaces.
Besides generating heat, hydrogen also acts as a shielding gas. Since metals at high temperatures are very reactive, hydrogen prevents them from reacting with other elements like nitrogen, carbon during the process. This process is also called atomic hydrogen welding.
2.As fuel for automobiles: Hydrogen fuel is a zero-emission fuel that burns on reaction with oxygen. It is an exciting concept which aims to power the automobiles by use of hydrogen instead of petroleum fuels.
This technology is being developed for use in large scale as a substitute for petroleum oils based engines. The advantage of this technology is the lack of air pollution as there is no harmful gas emitted by ignition.
The hydrogen fuel cell technology is also used in submarines, bikes, etc.
3. In petroleum refinery: Hydrogen gas is widely used in the petroleum industry to remove sulfur content. Besides, it is also used for hydroisomerization, wherein normal paraffin is converted to isoparaffin. Dearomatisation to convert aromatic to cycloalkanes. Hydrocracking to break long-chain hydrocarbons to shorter ones.
4. Ultraviolet lamps: Hydrogen gas in the form of deuterium is used in deuterium arc lamps. These lamps are used to produce ultraviolet light. These lamps have a tungsten filament, which generates heat. The heat in the bulb excites the deuterium atoms (H²), which produce light in the ultraviolet region. These lamps are used explicitly in the spectroscopic analysis in labs.
5. As a reducing agent. Hydrogen acts as both an electro-negative and electropositive element. This electro-positive nature makes it useful in redox reactions. The addition of hydrogen is termed as reduction, while removal is called oxidation.
6. In chemical analysis: Hydrogen is used in various methods of chemical analysis. It is used in Hydrogen electrode for titrations by potentiometry. Here hydrogen gas is passed at a constant speed at one atmospheric pressure into the reference electrode. The purity of the hydrogen can affect the analysis of these potentiometric titrations.
These methods include especially the atomic absorption spectroscopy. Here the hydrogen is used as fuel to generate heat in the process of experimentation. The ability of hydrogen to ignite is used in producing the neutral atoms in the process.
7. In structural identification: Many compounds have complex chemistry. Different methods are used to study the structure and the nature of bonds between the atoms and the molecules. Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) is one of the techniques which exploits the proton character to define the molecular structure. The technique is also called proton NMR. The presence of hydrogen in many bio-molecules is utilized for this purpose. Hence the presence of hydrogen helps in structural identification.
8. Gas chromatography: Hydrogen is one of the gases which can be used as a mobile phase in gas chromatography. This method is used to separate volatile substances from a mixture for identification.
9. Deuterium for electricity generation: As already seen before, the isotope of hydrogen is used to make heavy water (D2O). This heavy water is used in nuclear reactors as a coolant and also nuclear moderator to slow down the neutrons.
10. In balloons: One of the first uses of Hydrogen gas was in flying hot balloons in the air.
Due to its lightweight, low cost, hydrogen gas was used in the air balloons for flight.
But due to its explosiveness, it is being replaced by helium. Helium is stable gas and also one of the members of monoatomic elements. Unlike hydrogen, it is highly non-reactive.
11. As rocket fuel for space programs: Hydrogen is used as signature fuel for the American space program. It is a powerful propellant for rockets. It has the lowest molecular weight and is said to burn with extreme intensity. In combination with oxygen, it is said to yield the highest specific impulse in relation to the amount of fuel consumed.
12. In mass destructive bombs. This may not be the use of humans except for destruction. But it has been developed as a powerful weapon of mass destruction.
It relies on the principle of nuclear fusion of hydrogen atoms isotopes.
13.Hydrogen peroxide: This is a hydrogen compound in combination with oxygen as H2O2. Hydrogen peroxide is a routine sterilizing agent used in the clinic and hospital. It is primarily used for cleaning wounds, cuts and other damaged tissue portions.
Besides, in chemistry, you will learn about hydrogen bonds, which are weak forces of attraction between molecules. It uniquely combines with oxygen and, to a small extent, with nitrogen atoms to produce these attraction forces.
In research, it is also used for testing the anti-oxidant potential of enzymes like catalase.