Hydrogen fuel cell technology
Updated: Jun 18, 2022
By Rafael Pérez Vicente
February 14, 2022
UPDATED 12:00 PM EST
[Photo Credit: Forbes]
Have you ever wondered whats inside the batteries that give power to your TV remote control or your cellphone that makes them work for hours without running out of battery? The answer might be trickier than what you might think. However, theres a common factor to all that batteries; work with the movement of electrons. As well as ordinary batteries, hydrogen fuel cells work with this electrochemical gradient; however, instead of using a limited amount of elements inside the battery, hydrogen fuel cells may be functional as long as they keep receiving hydrogen from the outside, working a little like a car receiving fuel, hence the name “fuel cell batteries”.
The origin of this type of battery was trying to mimic photosynthesis in plants to produce energy from chemical reactions given a flow of electrons. the first of its kind was built in 1838 by Sir William Grove. However, significant advances have been made since 1932 up to date. And its applications have been seen in cars, satellites, and rockets, such as the Apollo 11.
For instance, hydrogen cells are electrochemical objects that convert chemical energy to electrical by the use of chemical reactions, leaving combustion out of the equation, and with it, global warming and pollution. These battery-like objects work by separating hydrogen in the presence of a catalyst to generate water, heat, and electricity, and their applications are incredible. Stacking these fuel cells together allows generating more potent currents than having them separated, which serves practical issues such as powering a car without fuel or a whole building without electricity. As long as the cell keeps receiving a supply of hydrogen, it will continue to operate until this element runs out.
However, there are a few factors considered negative in the use of hydrogen fuel cells. Initially, hydrogen is a very reactive and unstable element, that binds easily to other elements making it impure, while it is also highly flammable. Hence, it is dangerous to transport it and store it. Moreover, hydrogen is not in its pure form in the atmosphere, which is why hydrogen fuel cells cannot work with normal air; however, chemists are already working on solutions by building cells with purifiers to absorb only hydrogen to generate electricity.
The hydrogen energy is extremely clean due to its lack of carbon emissions and pollutants, and the abundance of this element makes these fuel cells more durable and efficient. They are silent and discrete; however, this form of energy is one of the most expensive ones, which does not favor in any way its production.
Nonetheless, some experts argue that the time for hydrogen fuel cells to succeed has passed and there are other cheaper and more efficient alternatives such as solar energy. Yet, its applications and efficiency havent reached their maximum potential. Roles in heavy transportation, backup electricity, and high power energy plants are still valuable alternatives for the use of hydrogen as a source of clean electricity.
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