Hydrogen fuel cell

Hydrogen fuel cell

Fuel cells are a type of energy production unit that generates electricity by introducing a primary substance to be used in a reaction to another substance to generate power. Similar to common batteries which rely upon a closed electrical system that store energy for use later on, fuel cells are an open energy production system that use external fuels in order to power their energy production process. Fuel cells generally produce electricity through the use of a basic fuel on an anode side of the cell with an oxidant on the cathode side and an electrolyte to initiate the chemical reaction necessary to produce electricity. The most common type of fuel cell used today are hydrogen fuel cells, which utilize hydrogen as the primary fuel on the anode side that is stored in a fuel tank and oxygen (commonly extracted from the air) as the oxidant to create the reaction necessary to generate power.

The most common hydrogen fuel cells in use today are also described as “proton exchange membrane fuel cell” and use a proton conducting membrane as the electrolyte which separates the hydrogen and oxygen sides of the fuel cell. As the hydrogen reacts with the anode catalysts present in the cell it defuses its current bonds and disassociates both its protons and electrons from each other. When this happens the protons travel through the proton conducting membrane into the oxygen and the electrons are forcibly extracted into an external circuit at the same time to produce power. When the protons and residual electrons from the power generation process reach each other on the oxygen side of the fuel cell they merge and form the byproduct of the process, which is simply water in either liquid or vapor form. This diagram provides a more comprehensive view that illustrates how a hydrogen fuel cell can work and explains in clear detail each step of the process for power generation.

hydrogen-fuel-cell

Hydrogen fuel cells are commonly used in a number of different ways today for power generation, both as stationary generators as well as portable energy sources for things such as vehicles and other machines. They are a number of drawbacks that are limiting their wide usage in the world today, however, the most notable of which are the costs involved in hydrogen based energy production as well as potential safety issues. As of today the cost of producing purely hydrogen based energy through a typical fuel cell can reach up to $1000 per kilo watt hour, far above what can be seen as a viable alternative for other conventional fuel sources. Hydrogen is also the most explosive gas that is currently known to mankind and if handled appropriately or exposed to any sort of flame it could easily turn volatile and be extremely unsafe – a major concern for its application in the automobile or other vehicle industry should there ever be a collision that could rupture a hydrogen tank located on board a vehicle. This is led to some hesitation when automobile companies such as GM and Ford have made efforts to implement hydrogen fuel-cell car production into widespread usage, and has met some resistance in receiving government funding in past years.

Nevertheless research is continuing into to the use of hydrogen fuel cells as they are both clean and efficient forms of power production that could hopefully replace traditional forms of fuel if the costs for hydrogen-based energy production can be reduced to a reasonable level. As hydrogen is the most abundance element we know of that exists in the universe its potential for application as an energy source to replace conventional fuel is notable, so long as adequate harvesting and refining processes can be developed to ensure its availability for usage worldwide and other technical and safety issues facing its usage can be overcome.

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