Hydrogen Fuel Cells There are many reasons to look for new cleaner forms of energy. Fossil fuels, being non-renewable, will eventually run out. Pollution from burning fossil fuels destroys our environment. Hydrogen fuel cells could be used many places where fossil fuels are currently being used. Using hydrogen as a form of energy can not only reduce our dependence on imported oil, but also benefit the environment by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and pollutants that affect our air quality. (“Hydrogen Production. “)
Hydrogen is not an energy source, it is an energy carrier. It can store and deliver energy but must still be produced from compounds that contain it. Hydrogen can be produced using diverse, domestic resources including fossil fuels, such as coal (with carbon sequestration) and natural gas; nuclear; and biomass and other renewable energy technologies, such as wind, solar, geothermal, and hydroelectric power. (“Hydrogen Production. “) The fact that there are many different ways to produce hydrogen makes it more appealing as a source of energy.
Although it can be produced at large plants to be distributed to smaller locations, it could also be produced right at refueling stations or power sites. Hydrogen fuel cells convert the energy in hydrogen to electricity. They are much more efficient at converting the energy source than other methods. The gasoline engine in a conventional car is less than 20% efficient in converting the chemical energy in gasoline into power that moves the vehicle, under normal driving conditions. (“Hydrogen Fuel Cells. ) Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles use electric motors and are much more energy efficient. They use 40-60 percent of the fuel’s energy. This would correspond to more than a 50% reduction in fuel consumption when compared to a conventional vehicle with an internal combustion engine. Fuel cells are also much quieter, have fewer moving parts, and are well suited to a variety of applications. A single fuel cell is made of an electrolyte in between two electrodes, an anode and a cathode. Plates on the sides of the cell help to distribute gases.
There are several kinds of fuel cells, but Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) fuel cells—also called Proton Exchange Membrane fuel cells—are the type typically used in automobiles. (“How They Work: PEM Fuel Cells. ”) In this type of fuel cell, hydrogen molecules are separated into protons and electrons. The electrons are then used as electricity to power motors and other electronic devices. Two challenges to the mainstream adoption of fuel cells are high cost and improving durability. Fuel cell systems need to offer competitive cost compared to current technologies.
Ongoing research is focused on identifying and developing new materials that will reduce the cost and extend the life of fuel cell stack components including membranes, catalysts, bipolar plates, and membrane-electrode assemblies. (“Hydrogen Fuel Cells. “) This research along with providing ways to mass produce these technologies with lower costs will help bring fuel cells into the mainstream. Works Cited “How They Work: PEM Fuel Cells. ” Fuel Economy. Web. 24 Jan. 2010. . “Hydrogen Production. ” US Department of Energy. Web. 24 Jan. 2010. . “Hydrogen Fuel Cells. ” US Department of Energy. Web. 24 Jan. 2010. .
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