Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association


What is Hydrogen?

What is Hydrogen?

Hydrogen is a chemical element with the symbol H and atomic number 1. With just one proton and one electron, it is the most common element, making up 75% of the mass of the entire universe.

While hydrogen fills stars and gas planets, here on Earth, it is rarely in a naturally free state. Rather, it’s bonded to other elements. For example, when combined with oxygen, it forms water - H20. Hydrogen gas is colourless, odourless, tasteless and non-toxic.

Hydrogen gas was first produced artificially way back in the 16th century. Because the element only produces water when it’s burned, it was named hydrogen, Greek for “water-former.”

On its own, hydrogen is not a fuel or source of energy. Rather, when hydrogen burns, it reacts with the oxygen in the air to create heat. This heat is then used for energy. Water and a few nitrogen oxides are the only by-products.

Therefore, hydrogen is considered an energy carrier – it stores energy first created elsewhere. Fortunately, there are many ways of producing hydrogen fuel, such as electrolysis using hydroelectricity, solar, wind and nuclear power.

As a fuel, hydrogen has been used safely for many decades in a wide range of applications, including in the food, metal, glass and chemical industries. The global hydrogen industry is well established and produces more than 50 million tonnes of hydrogen per year.

Hydrogen is an excellent fuel for many reasons. Hydrogen is:

  • carbon-free
  • exceptionally clean
  • lighter than air
  • odourless
  • non-toxic
  • safe to produce, store and transport
  • easy to store in large amounts
  • easily produced from many different sources