What are Fuel Cells?
Fuel cells are a promising and developing method of creating clean alternative energy. Learn what they are and how they work.
Fuel cells are electrochemical devices that combine hydrogen and oxygen in order to produce electricity.
During the power generation cycle, water and heat are produced as a by-products. This is a far more ideal byproduct than the unclean emissions which are created by other methods of generating electricity.
They will operate and generate power so long as fuel is supplied. Since the conversion of the fuel to energy takes place via an electrochemical process, and not by combustion, the process is clean, quiet, and highly efficient - two to three times more efficient than ordinary combustion, such as that done by gasoline in a generator.
Fuel cell technology is unique as a power technology - no other energy generation technology offers the combination of benefits that these devices do. While they produce extremely low (or zero) emissions (depending on the type used), other benefits include:
* High efficiency and reliability
* Multi-fuel capability
* Ease of maintenance
Since they generate power through a chemical process, they operate silently. Thus, they reduce noise pollution, as well as air pollution. Heat generated by the cells, in the process of generating electricity can be captured and used to provide hot water or space heating for a home or office, in larger applications.
Another key aspect of this technology is that the cells can be scaled to any size required, without difficulty. Small cells can be produced which will power mobile phones for up to thirty days, or operate laptops for twenty hours or more. Larger versions can be produced to operate as power plants, in order to provide electricity for small cities. And of course, there are many sizes in between.
The most notable use of fuel cells currently being developed is as a replacement for the combustion engine. It is very likely that cars and other vehicles will be powered by fuel cells in the not too distant future.
In light of the above, the U.S. Department of Energy (COE) is running a program in order to research and develop this technology further. The DOE considers this to be an important enabling technology for the hydrogen economy. It states that they have the potential to revolutionize the way we power our nation, by offering cleaner and more highly efficient alternatives to the combustion of gasoline and other hazardous fossil fuels.
The DOE also considers that these devices have the potential to replace internal-combustion engines in vehicles, and to provide power in stationary and portable power applications because they are energy-efficient, clean, and fuel-flexible.
Currently the DOE is working closely with its national laboratories, universities, and industry partners across the United States, in order to overcome critical technical barriers to the commercialization of fuel cell technology. It is currently focused on the development of reliable, low-cost, high-performance fuel cell system components, for transportation and buildings applications.
The first fuel-cell operated cars are currently being piloted. The first commercially available cars of this make are predicted to reach the consumer market by the year 2012.
There are many forms of alternative energy being researched, developed, and utilized around the world. There is solar power, wind power, hydro-kinetic power, biomass, ocean wave power, tidal power, and the list goes on and on. A key factor to reducing our uses of unhealthy fossil fuels will be to determine which clean alternative energy resources work best under which circumstances and in which locations. A full understanding of all clean alternative energy sources is necessary.
Fuels cells play a big role in helping clean up our environment.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anna is a webmaster and blogger who promotes and educates on alternative energy uses. For more complete information, please see The Uses of Fuel Cells at her blog, Alternative Energy .