The Hydrogen Fuel Cell
With global warming once again in the news, general pollution on the rise and some of the most severe and dramatic storms this past year, it is no
wonder that our future energy requirements are once again a hot topic. So what of Fuel cells and may they represent a solution? or not, and if so, will it be coming sooner rather than later?
The Hydrogen Fuel Cell
So What Is A Fuel Cell? By all accounts it is a general phrase which is used by many in the Renewable Energy Circles. But regardless of the design, a fuel cell is essentially a cell possibly like a battery (maybe a bit larger) in which a chemical process occurs to produce electricity. In this example, the fuel is hydrogen. The basic idea is to combine hydrogen with oxygen in a process that produces electricity. This electricity is then used as we would normally use it in our homes or for much larger cells, the car or possibly in the workplace.
But if you read the papers or watch the television, you could be forgiven for thinking that the concept of hydrogen fuels is a new one, but I can assure you, that it isn’t. The first one was created in 1839. The problem, of course, was that it was inefficient, the call was too heavy and the hydrogen too expensive, plus there wasn’t much interest at that time since fossil fuels like coal and gas were being used in bulk and the need at that time just wasn’t there.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that much interest was shown in the energy platform.
We we’re just starting to hear the first little reports of our energy usage was starting to show signs that it would soon begin to exceed its production. But at that time including the 1970’s through to the 1990’s we continued using more and more energy as every household had at least one television, a washing machine, a drier and more and more until our houses were full of energy hungry devices and of course a car or two in the family. But still we were not really bothering about the odd reports filtering through about climate change or our energy resources starting to run short. We were gadget hungry and we all bought into the consumer fury and desire to have each new gadget that was introduced throughout this period and beyond.
NASA was leading the field when it came down to new energy technologies and it was they who decided to use fuel cells to power the Gemini and Apollo spacecrafts. Unfortunately, the trick has been translating this limited use to wide spread applications in daily our everyday world.
A common misconception is that a fuel cell represents renewable energy. But that is very clearly not the case. It does not, it is a device only and not an energy platform. It is like saying a hydroelectric dam is a renewable energy. The dam is a creation or a tool which has been made to harness a particular renewable energy resource, but definitely not an energy source in itself. The fuel cell can be viewed in the same way. It is a tool made for harnessing energy from hydrogen. The method itself can be clean or dirty depending on whether water or coal is used as the base material. Obviously, coal is not much help.
Theoretically fuel cells can run on any material which contains Hydrogen but the primary goal would preferably water and other sources of renewable type fuels, but as water is generally free, clean and readily available to most areas. Especially when you see the clean by product which results from Hydrogen being used in the process as there is no other pollution to be had that could add to the “green house gas effect”
There are a few hurdles that must be overcome before hydrogen fuel cells become a really viable energy source. First, the fuel cells are far too large and heavy to be used for practical purposes. This is the main reason why the hydrogen car is not currently shown to be a viable option because of the overall weight is too much, having said that the engineers from Germany are still evaluating their own hydrogen fuelled cars.
The second problem is one of cost, the overall cost of trying to run a car on a Hydrogen fuel cell is far too high. Currently, fuel cells are producing energy at a minimum cost of about ten times that of fossil fuels, making it far too expensive at this time.
While this is the present situation we know from our history that situation like these often result in last minute breakthroughs, often from some back yard engineers tinkering away in his garage. He may simply think of a simple solution one day and come up with a real viable solution.
If a Hydrogen bomb can be built, then surely we can build a hydrogen fuel cell at a reasonable cost at a reasonable weight.
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