What is Hydrogen? - Formula, Production & Uses

Instructor: John Williams
Hydrogen is the lightest naturally occurring element, and is important in many biological, chemical, and industrial processes. This article discusses hydrogen, its properties, and some of its many uses.


Elements are chemicals that cannot be broken down into simpler substances through chemical means. These chemicals contain only one type of atom, the smallest units of matter. Elements include simple substances that we all recognize, such as gold, and many unfamiliar substances, such as ytterbium. Many of these elements can be combined to make molecules - chemicals containing two or more atoms.

One of the most common types of atoms found in molecules is hydrogen. The chemical structure of hydrogen and its elemental properties makes it a major participant in molecule formation. Let's take a look at hydrogen, its properties, and some of the uses that hydrogen has.

An Atom of Hydrogen

Atoms have three parts: protons (which are positively charged), neutrons (which have no charge), and electrons (which are negatively charged). The nucleus, or core, of the atom contains protons and neutrons. Electrons are found orbiting the nucleus of an atom, and are the portions of the atom that participate in molecule formation. Hydrogen is composed of only one proton and one electron, and no neutrons. Hydrogen has the ability to share its lone electron with other atoms, and therefore, it is able to form a bond (shared electron pair) with other reactive atoms.

The formula for elemental hydrogen is H2.

Hydrogen Atom with a Proton and Electron
hydrogen atom

Properties of Hydrogen

Hydrogen is found naturally as a diatomic molecule, which is a molecule with two atoms. It is usually a gas, which is a state of matter with no defined volume or shape. It has a very low boiling point (-423 degrees Fahrenheit), which is why it is hard to find hydrogen in a naturally occurring liquid form. It has an atomic weight of 1, which is due to its single proton in the nucleus. Hydrogen has no color, odor, or taste.

Production and Uses

Hydrogen can be produced in several ways. One of the simplest ways is electrolysis of water, which uses electricity to separate hydrogen and oxygen. Other methods use metals, such as aluminum or zinc , exposing them to acids, which are high in hydrogen ions. Additionally, hydrogen can be liberated by chemical reactions that will displace, or separate, it from other molecules.

Electrolysis is Used to Produce Hydrogen from Water
Electrolysis of water

Hydrogen can have several uses. For example, hydrogen is used to cool energy generators, which is important for reducing heat production. Hydrogen is also being developed as an energy source, and could possibly be used as an alternative to gasoline in the cars of the future. In biological and chemical systems, hydrogen can also be used as an energy carrier, meaning it does not produce energy directly in these processes, but assists in the formation of energy molecules, such as ATP.

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