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Chemistry - Hydrogen

Hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant element in the universe.

The sun and stars are made of hydrogen gas, but hydrogen on earth is found only in compounds and does not occur naturally as a free element.

Hydrogen is very reactive, it burns easily and combines with many other elements. For example, water is made of hydrogen and oxygen atoms, (H 2O). Fossil fuels, such as coal and oil are compounds of hydrogen and carbon, sugars and starch also contain hydrogen.

Making Hydrogen

Hydrogen (H 2) can be made by reacting methane gas (CH 4) with steam (H 2O):

CH 4 + H 2O -> 4H 2 + CO 2

Most hydrogen made in this form is used to make ammonia (NH 3) for fertilizers. To make ammonia, hydrogen is combined with nitrogen using the Haber process, which was discovered in 1909 by Fritz Haber.

The Haber Process

In the Haber process, nitrogen gas from the air and hydrogen extracted from methane are passed over a catalyst of iron.

Under very high temperature and pressure, the gases react to produce ammonia gas (NH 3). This is then cooled to form liquid ammonia:

3H 2 + N 2 -> 2NH 3

Note: this equation is reversible.

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