Hydrogen energy could help our climate — depending on its source

ammonia: A colorless gas with a nasty smell. Ammonia is a compound made from the elements nitrogen and hydrogen. It is used to make food and applied to farm fields as a fertilizer. Secreted by the kidneys, ammonia gives urine its characteristic odor. The chemical also occurs in the atmosphere and throughout the universe.

anode: The negative terminal of a battery, and the positively charged electrode in an electrolytic cell. It attracts negatively charged particles. The anode is the source of electrons for use outside the battery when it discharges.

atom: The basic unit of a chemical element. Atoms are made up of a dense nucleus that contains positively charged protons and uncharged neutrons. The nucleus is orbited by a cloud of negatively charged electrons.

carbon: A chemical element that is the physical basis of all life on Earth. Carbon exists freely as graphite and diamond. It is an important part of coal, limestone and petroleum, and is capable of self-bonding, chemically, to form an enormous number of chemically, biologically and commercially important molecules. (in climate studies) The term carbon sometimes will be used almost interchangeably with carbon dioxide to connote the potential impacts that some action, product, policy or process may have on long-term atmospheric warming.

carbon dioxide: (or CO2) A colorless, odorless gas produced by all animals when the oxygen they inhale reacts with the carbon-rich foods that they’ve eaten. Carbon dioxide also is released when organic matter burns (including fossil fuels like oil or gas). Carbon dioxide acts as a greenhouse gas, trapping heat in Earth’s atmosphere. Plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen during photosynthesis, the process they use to make their own food.

catalyst: (v. catalyze) A substance that helps a chemical reaction to proceed faster. Examples include enzymes and elements such as platinum and iridium.

cathode: The positive terminal of a battery, and the negatively charged electrode in an electrolytic cell. It attracts positively charged particles. During discharge, the cathode attracts electrons from outside the battery.

chemical reaction: A process that involves the rearrangement of the molecules or structure of a substance, as opposed to a change in physical form (as from a solid to a gas).

climate: The weather conditions that typically exist in one area, in general, or over a long period.

climate change: Long-term, significant change in the climate of Earth. It can happen naturally or in response to human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels and clearing of forests.

commercial: An adjective for something that is ready for sale or already being sold. Commercial goods are those caught or produced for others, and not solely for personal consumption.

conductor: (in physics and engineering) A material through which an electrical current can flow.

current: (in electricity) The flow of electricity or the amount of charge moving through some material over a particular period of time.

decarbonization: A term for a deliberate move away from polluting technologies, activities and energy sources — ones that spew carbon-based greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide and methane) into the atmosphere. The goal is to reduce the amount of carbon-based gases that contribute to climate change.

electric current: A flow of electric charge — electricity — usually from the movement of negatively charged particles, called electrons.

electricity: A flow of charge, usually from the movement of negatively charged particles, called electrons.

electrode: A device that conducts electricity and is used to make contact with non-metal part of an electrical circuit, or that contacts something through which an electrical signal moves.

electrolysis: The use of an electric current to separate chemicals in a solution. The current forces ions to move towards electrodes — either a cathode or anode — at either end of the system.

electron: A negatively charged particle, usually found orbiting the outer regions of an atom; also, the carrier of electricity within solids.

element: A building block of some larger structure. (in chemistry) Each of more than one hundred substances for which the smallest unit of each is a single atom. Examples include hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, lithium and uranium.

engineer: A person who uses science and math to solve problems. As a verb, to engineer means to design a device, material or process that will solve some problem or unmet need.

environment: The sum of all of the things that exist around some organism or the process and the condition those things create. Environment may refer to the weather and ecosystem in which some animal lives, or, perhaps, the temperature and humidity (or even the placement of things in the vicinity of an item of interest).

factor: Something that plays a role in a particular condition or event; a contributor.

flammable: Something that can burn (go up in flames) easily.

force: Some outside influence that can change the motion of an object, hold objects close to one another, or produce motion or stress in a stationary object.

fossil fuel: Any fuel — such as coal, petroleum (crude oil) or natural gas — that has developed within the Earth over millions of years from the decayed remains of bacteria, plants or animals.

fuel cell: A device that converts chemical energy into electrical energy. The most common fuel is hydrogen, which emits only water vapor as a byproduct.

gigawatt: It’s a unit of electric power equal to one billion watts. Put another way, that’s about the power typically needed to provide the electricity needs of 750,000 U.S. homes.

greenhouse gas: A gas that contributes to the greenhouse effect by absorbing heat. Carbon dioxide is one example of a greenhouse gas.

grid: (in electricity) The interconnected system of electricity lines that transport electrical power over long distances. In North America, this grid connects electrical generating stations and local communities throughout most of the continent.

hydrocarbon: Any of a range of large molecules containing chemically bound carbon and hydrogen atoms. Crude oil, for example, is a naturally occurring mix of many hydrocarbons.

hydrogen: The lightest element in the universe. As a gas, it is colorless, odorless and highly flammable. It’s an integral part of many fuels, fats and chemicals that make up living tissues. It’s made of a single proton (which serves as its nucleus) orbited by a single electron.

literally: An adjective indicating that the phrase it modifies is precisely true. For instance, to say: “It’s so cold that I’m literally dying,” means that this person actually expects to soon be dead, the result of getting too cold.

membrane: A barrier which blocks the passage (or flow through) of some materials depending on their size or other features. Membranes are an integral part of filtration systems. Many serve that same function as the outer covering of cells or organs of a body.

molecule: An electrically neutral group of atoms that represents the smallest possible amount of a chemical compound. Molecules can be made of single types of atoms or of different types. For example, the oxygen in the air is made of two oxygen atoms (O2), but water is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom (H2O).

motor: A device that converts electricity into mechanical motion. (in biology) A term referring to movement.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: (or NOAA) A science agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Initially established in 1807 under another name (The Survey of the Coast), this agency focuses on understanding and preserving ocean resources, including fisheries, protecting marine mammals (from seals to whales), studying the seafloor and probing the upper atmosphere.

natural gas: A mix of gases that developed underground over millions of years (often in association with crude oil). Most natural gas starts out as 50 to 90 percent methane, along with small amounts of heavier hydrocarbons, such as propane and butane.

nuclear power: Energy derived from processes that produce heat by splitting apart the nuclei of atoms (fission) or forcing atomic nuclei to merge (fusion). A nuclear power plant uses that heat to drive turbines that create electricity.

ore: A naturally formed rock or mineral that contains a metal that can be extracted for some new use.

oxygen: A gas that makes up about 21 percent of Earth’s atmosphere. All animals and many microorganisms need oxygen to fuel their growth (and metabolism).

petroleum: A thick flammable liquid mixture of hydrocarbons. Petroleum is a fossil fuel mainly found beneath the Earth’s surface. It is the source of the chemicals used to make gasoline, lubricating oils, plastics and many other products.

policy: A plan, stated guidelines or agreed-upon rules of action to apply in certain specific circumstances. For instance, a school could have a policy on when to permit snow days or how many excused absences it would allow a student in a given year.

proton: A subatomic particle that is one of the basic building blocks of the atoms that make up matter. Protons belong to the family of particles known as hadrons.

prototype: A first or early model of some device, system or product that still needs to be perfected.

raw materials: The natural products and unfinished goods used to manufacture other things. These can range from minerals such as iron, coal and silica to farmed products such as cotton and oats. They can even include some processed ingredients, such as lumber, gasoline, plastics, solvents and adhesives.

renewable: An adjective for resources that can be endlessly replaced (such as water, green plants, sunlight and wind). This is in contrast to non-renewable resources, for which there is a finite supply — one that can essentially be used up. These include petroleum (and other fossil fuels) or relatively rare elements and minerals.

skeptical: Not easily convinced; having doubts or reservations.

solar energy: The energy in sunlight that can be captured as heat or converted into heat or electrical energy. Some people refer to wind power as a form of solar energy. The reason: Winds are driven by the variations in temperatures and the density of the air, both of which are affected by the solar heating of the air, ground and surface waters.

standards: (in regulations) A limit above which something may not be used, sold or considered safe.

sustainability: (adj: sustainable) To use resources in a way that they will continue to be available in the future.

system: A network of parts that together work to achieve some function. For instance, the blood, vessels and heart are primary components of the human body’s circulatory system. Similarly, trains, platforms, tracks, roadway signals and overpasses are among the potential components of a nation’s railway system. System can even be applied to the processes or ideas that are part of some method or ordered set of procedures for getting a task done.

technology: The application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry — or the devices, processes and systems that result from those efforts.

toxic: Poisonous or able to harm or kill cells, tissues or whole organisms. The measure of risk posed by such a poison is its toxicity.

transition: The boundary where one thing (paragraphs, ecosystems, life stage, state of matter) changes or converts into another. Some transitions are sharp or abrupt. Others slowly or gradually morph from one condition or environment to another. (in gender studies) A term used to describe the process of permanently changing one’s outward gender in terms of name, behavior and expression to match one’s inner sense of his or her gender.

water vapor: Water in its gaseous state, capable of being suspended in the air.

watt: A measure of the rate of energy use, flux (or flow) or production. It is equivalent to one joule per second. It describes the rate of energy converted from one form to another — or moved — per unit of time. For instance, a kilowatt is 1,000 watts, and household energy use is typically measured and quantified in terms of kilowatt-hours, or the number of kilowatts used per hour.

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