A brief history of the harnessing of hydrogen power

By Cameron Saunders
With this timeline, we look at some of the milestones in the history of hydrogen. Some, one will find, are more obscure and unexpected than others

With many actors increasingly putting their faith in the progress of hydrogen energy, perhaps it is instructive to take a look at how far we’ve come over the 400-plus years that people have been tinkering with the technology.

1625, Hydrogen is identified

In Brussels, Jan Baptist van Helmont first identifies the substance hydrogen. Van Helmont is also considered the father of pneumatic chemistry and first coined the term ‘gas’.

1895, The first zeppelin is patented in Germany

Control of hydrogen comes in many forms, and one of them was in providing zeppelins – those massive airships that were en vogue for transatlantic travel in the first half of last century – with their signature buoyancy. 

Zeppelins soon fell out of favour following the Hindenburg disaster of 1937. 

1960, GE develops hydrogen fuel cells for NASA

In the run up to the Apollo and Gemini space missions, General Electric arrives at the technological end to produce electricity from hydrogen fuel cells.  

early 2000s, Hydrogen fuel cell-powered submarines arrive 

Again in Germany, hydrogen powered submarine technology begins to take off. 

The type 214 submarine is an avatar of this technology, but the DeepC autonomous underwater vehicle is also powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

2016, Toyota launches its first hydrogen fuel cell car

As the climate crisis intensifies, automotive companies seek new ways of powering cars. Enter: hydrogen. 

With the Toyota Mirai, the world’s first hydrogen-powered car comes on the market.

2022, Saudi goes all in

In one of the biggest yet concerted pushes for hydrogen power, Saudi Arabia announced the construction of a $5bn green hydrogen plan in NEOM. It is to be powered by renewable energy and will supply 650 tonnes of hydrogen daily.






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