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Planetary hydrogen

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  • Mike Johnston
    Hi, 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
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2004
         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 source.
         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. Lightning. 
         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 atmosphere.
         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 electrolyte solution.
         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 well.
      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.
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