Hydrogen Fuel Cells

hydrogen fuel cell diagram

They say that the exhaust from a hydrogen fuel cell powered bus tastes a bit like distilled water. That's because it is water. Fuel cells using pure hydrogen do not emit any air pollutants or greenhouse gases, only water vapor. Hydrogen fuel cells promise to power our vehicles, homes and offices more efficiently and will be less harmful to the environment than traditional energy sources. What is the state of this technology and what stands in our way of using this clean, renewable energy resource?

What is Hydrogen?

Hydrogen is the simplest and lightest of all chemical elements.  It can be found in many places including water and organic matter. In its normal gaseous state, hydrogen is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and is nontoxic.

What is a Fuel Cell?

A fuel cell is a device that takes the chemical energy produced when hydrogen and oxygen are combined in a special process, and turns it into electrical current. The amount of charge that each fuel cell produces is small, so the fuels cells are made in sheets and stacked next to each other to produce enough current to power an electric motor.

A simple configuration of a fuel cell powered vehicle begins with a tank that contains pressurized hydrogen fuel. This tank is connected directly to the fuel cells. The fuel cells convert the hydrogen to electricity to power an electric or hybrid motor.


car fuel cell block diagram.

Will Hydrogen Fuel Systems Become Readily Available?

There are many obstacles that must be overcome before hydrogen fuel can replace fossil fuels. Extracting hydrogen from abundant sources like water can be difficult and costly. Storing hydrogen safely and efficiently is an issue and the the projected consumer price is still way too high. By far the biggest hurdle will be to convert the current gasoline infrastructure, (the system for collecting fuel, delivering it to the gas stations and then to your vehicle), to a hydrogen infrastructure.

Hydrogen fuel cell technology is advancing rapidly thanks to the research and support of governments and businesses. But a change this large needs the cooperation of society as a whole. The benefits of a cleaner environment and reducing our dependence on oil are two very good reasons for us all to get behind this promising new technology.


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