In all of the discussion going on today
about hydrogen energy there is very little mention of the natural hydrogen cycle
of the planet that we live on. To me this is strange as all of the technology
that we have depends upon natural laws and/or the mimicking of naturally
occurring systems. So if we want to design the best and most efficient system
for hydrogen production and use then perhaps we ought to look a bit harder at
similar systems that occur naturally around us. I have been doing so and this
message is intended to be a sort of distillation of my thoughts to date on
various aspects of this process. There is nothing really new here but maybe
just a slightly different perspective on the known. From this perhaps some new
ideas may arise.
Where to start? I suppose that we might as well
begin with our power source, the Sun. A thermonuclear furnace which spews out
all sorts of energy (heat,light,charged particles, radiation). These emissions
streak out from the Sun in bands sort of like the spokes in a wheel. This is the
solar wind. As the Earth orbits around the Sun it cuts across/through these
bands of higher energy. So the Sun is akin to a pulsed DC power
When this energy reaches the Earth it encounters
the gasses in the upper atmosphere (much of it hydrogen) and excites them
into an electrical plasma. This is the Plasmasphere. This area of ionized gasses
also fluctuates in intensity with the pulses of energy from the Sun. When it is
more highly energized we see the Aurora Borealis (streaks of electrical plasma).
Outside the plasmasphere is the hydrosheath. A sort of torus shaped ring of
hydrogen which circles the planet around it's middle. This hydrogen layer is
excited by the Sun's energy and emits ultraviolet radiation as a result. Some
really cool pictures of this hydrogen torus are available on the web, taken with
UV sensitive film.
Below this layer we have the "normal" atmosphere
of air. Air is a dielectric, akin to an insulator in many ways. In the case of
the Earth this air dielectric separates the electrical charge of the
Plasmasphere from the conductor which is the ground below. The potential
difference between the ground and the electrically charged upper atmosphere is
in the range of hundreds of thousands of volts.
The dielectric of the air has a tendency to draw
water from the ground through evaporation. Water too is a dielectric. At least
pure water is. So the electrical plasma of the upper atmosphere can be seen
as one "plate" and the ground is the other "plate" in an enormous capacitor
with the air dielectric separating these plates. Since this capacitor can be
thought of as being continuously in a "charged" state then we have to see that
the molecules of the dielectric would orient themselves in such a way that their
negative poles would point toward the more positive of the plates and their
positive pole would point toward the negative plate. This is especially true
with more polar molecules such as water.
The space between these two plates is sufficient
that we do not see dielectric breakdown occurring even though the pd between the
plates is so large. The result of such a breakdown being an electrical
discharge in the form of lightning striking the ground directly from the
Plasmasphere. Rainwater from evaporation is usually pretty pure and so would be
a dielectric. In today's world though rainwater is not very pure in many areas.
The main pollutants are things like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from the
burning of hydrocarbon fuels. Of course natural events (such as forest
fires) also produce the same types of pollutants.
The interesting thing for the purposes of this
paper are that, when these pollutants combine with the water in the atmosphere
they produce acids. The result is acid rain. Another result is that the
acidulated atmospheric water is no longer serving as only a dielectric. The
acids in it are electrochemical conductors of electricity. The water breaks up
into ions which are positively and negatively charged. H+ and SO4-- in the case
of sulfuric acid. These ions will also react in an electrical field with the
negative ions being attracted to the positive plate and the positive ions being
attracted to the negative plate. This creates a pathway for electricity to be
conducted between the plates.
Do we see any evidence of this? Yes. As the water
molecules break up the positive hydrogen ions are attracted toward the
Plasmasphere. They follow the Earth's magnetic lines of force and travel up into
the Plasmasphere. Most of them exit at the Poles of the Earth. This is called
the Polar Wind.
The negative ions are left behind in the clouds.
As more and more hydrogen ions make their exit the clouds become more and more
negatively charged. Once the potential difference between them and one of the
plates becomes sufficiently great an electrical discharge occurs.
It is interesting to note that lightning can
travel from the ground up to a cloud or from a cloud down to the ground or even
from the plasmasphere to a cloud or a cloud up to the plasmasphere. The acid
water in the atmosphere is serving as a conductor which allows the exchange of
energy between the various charged areas of the planet. The size of the clouds
also plays a role in reducing the distance between the plates by inserting
another conducting plate of acid water between the two main plates. So a
thundercloud which may stretch several miles up into the atmosphere effectively
draws the plates much closer to each other. This is
certainly not the only source of energy on the planet as there is a good
case for the motion of the Earth acting like a giant dynamo as well but I am
focusing on just the part which involves hydrogen.
But if this is the case shouldn't all the water
on the Earth be separated after a while? Certainly after 4.5 billion years at
any rate. Yes and no. If the water that was on the Earth when it formed was all
the water it ever had or ever would have then yes it would seem that it all
should have separated by now. However this is not the case. it seems that the
Earth (and probably the other planets of the inner solar system as well) is
constantly receiving new water through the small debris of comets entering the
I find this interesting because it brings to mind
the image of a very long cycle in which the water on the planet is separated and
exits through the Polar Wind and becomes part of the vast sheath of hydrogen
around the planet. As long as this exiting is balanced by the arrival of new
comet water then all is well. If however there is an imbalance that develops
perhaps from a decrease in the amount of comet water arriving then the amount of
water exiting the planet would exceed the amount of water
arriving and the levels of the oceans would drop.
If on the other hand an increase in the amount of
cometary water arriving should develop then it might rain for years perhaps even
enough to fill the oceans back up. It is the maintaining of this delicate
balance upon which we depend for our survival. In one extreme we end up with a
desert world and on the other waterworld, neither of which is very
attractive. Of course the addition of a lot of electrolytes to the
atmosphere (as we are doing now) would be expected to increase the
rate of exit of the water as well. Maybe this is why so much ice is melting
around the world today and yet the level of the ocean don't seem to be raising
fast enough to account for it...
Interestingly enough the oceans of the world are
electrolytically charged as well. The primary electrollyte being salt (an acid).
This would indicate that the ocean overall has a negative electrical charge.
Maybe this is why lightning strikes on land much more than at sea.
There ought to be a way to use this situation to
produce hydrogen from the sea. All of the ingredients necessary seem to be in
place. There is a large electrical potential difference between the plasmasphere
and the ground (the sea floor in this case). Between these two plates is placed
an electrochemical solution of water and electrolyte (the ocean). It might
be as simple as installing some electrodes in the right places in relation to
the two existing capacitor plates so that this energy can flow through the
electrolyte and release hydrogen as a result.
I have come up with a preliminary design for such
a system. It would be solely for experimental purposes but seems as though it
would advance our knowledge in this respect. I will describe it now. Imagine a
closed container made of some insulating material such as glass or plastic. The
bottom of the container would be an electrode made of an inert metal like nickel
or platinum. This electrode would represent the ground and would be grounded to
the Earth with a conductor. The container would be partially filled with a water
At the top of the container, above the water
level, would be a setup of two electrodes which would form an electrical
plasma between themselves when a high voltage charge was established between
them. A vacuum pump might have to be installed to facilitate this.
Once the plasma was established at the top of the
cell across the air dielectric there would also be a potential difference
created between the plasma and the grounded electrode at the bottom of the cell,
separated by the electrochemical conductor of the water/salt solution (another
electrolyte might be preferred here such as H2SO4) and the aid dielectric
between the water and the plasma. This would cause the water molecules within
the electrolyte solution to orient themselves into the electrical field between
the plasma and the ground but the air and water dielectrics would prevent any
direct arc discharge between the two. The resulting orientation of the water
molecules would place the H+ ions at the surface of the water and the negative
ion at the bottom just like in an electrolysis cell.
The plasma would attract the H+ ions either
directly from the water or from the water vapor in the "atmosphere" within the
container between the water and the plasma. As the H+ ions left the solution the
negative ions would be left behind. Eventually enough of them would build up so
that they would release their negative charge to the grounded electrode at the
bottom of the cell creating a useful flow of electrical current between the
container and ground.
At the same time the H+ ions would be drawn up
into the plasma. There they could pick up electrons and become H2 gas or, if one
were to use deuterium rich water, a fusion reaction could happen as
There are many possible experimental configurations which
could be set up within the cell to optimize hydrogen production from this
system. Perhaps another inert electrode being placed between the plasma and the
ground electrode would allow the H+ ions to form directly into H2 without having
to enter the plasma area?
Well, those are my thoughts to date on the
subject. Hopefully they will prove useful or at least entertaining.