What is a Fuel Cell?

March 16, 2009  /  Lifestyle

A Fuel cells are a sustainable energy source.  They generate electricity without polluting the environment with exhaust or noise.  They burn clean so they don’t emit by-products that are a poison to the air and earth. By contrast, fossils fuels waste a lot of the energy they produce rendering them inefficient in the public eye.The American government, in collaboration with some private businesses and academic institutions, are laboring to develop and produce fuel cells because they have the potential to supply power for anything including toys, cars and entire buildings.How does a fuel cell create energy?A fuel cell takes stored chemical energy and converts it into electrical energy from whatever fuel you provide.  Methane or gasoline can be used, but in the pursuit of energy efficiency, hydrogen is the most popular choice.  To fuel a vehicle, the idea is to have a fuel cell that converts hydrogen and oxygen into water and produces electricity in the process.  The major chemical components inside a fuel cell are electrolytes, which prevent the chemicals from reacting against each other in ways we don’t want, and electrodes, which are the controlled impulses used to produce the desired chemical reaction.Where can we get hydrogen?Hydrogen works better than other chemicals for this type of fuel cell-generated energy, except that hydrogen is not readily available.  Unfortunately, hydrogen cannot be mined nor can it be harvested from somewhere or manufactured.  Fossils fuels are more easily obtained, but the conversion process required to turn gasoline into a hydrogen-rich source is complex and would take up a lot of space underneath the hood of the vehicle.  Currently, hydrogen is more expensive to generate than fossil fuel, so most people agree that this alternative is not ideal.Are we making hydrogen fuel cells?In 2003, President Bush instigated the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative (HFI).  This program is reinforced by the accompanying legislation called the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT 2005).  Both of these movements are further buttressed by the Advanced Energy Initiative of 2006.  This mandate contains an intention to develop technology that will make hydrogen-based fuel cell production for vehicles a practical and affordable energy alternative by 2020. More than one billion dollars, so far, has been allocated to fuel cell research and development by the United States.

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