How Does a Hydrogen Fuel Cell Work

With the prices of gasoline and crude oil soaring, many people are becoming more interested in alternative forms of energy and less expensive ways to power automobiles and other mechanical devices. One alternative source of power is the hydrogen fuel cell, which is an electrochemical energy conversion device. But how does a hydrogen fuel cell work and what can it do to reduce automobile expenses?

How does a hydrogen fuel cell work to produce energy?

Most people are familiar with one major type of electrochemical energy conversion devices used in automobiles. This device is the battery, which has chemicals inside that create energy. However, these chemicals can be depleted, causing the battery to die. Once the battery dies, you must recharge it or replace it, or it is worthless to you as an auto part. A hydrogen fuel cell works differently in that there is a constant flow of chemicals into the cell. This means that energy is being produced constantly as long as the chemicals continue to flow. The most common chemicals used in fuel cells are hydrogen and oxygen.

How does a hydrogen fuel cell work in automobiles?

There are many types of fuel cells, but the one that is being considered for powering automobiles is called the polymer exchange membrane fuel cell. One of the benefits of this type of fuel cell is that it has a low operating temperature. It wouldn’t take very long for the fuel cell to become heated enough to produce the electricity needed to power an automobile. A polymer exchange membrane fuel cell has four main parts. The catalyst is what makes hydrogen and oxygen react with each other. The proton exchange membrane, or electrolyte, acts as a block for electrons. The anode and cathode are the negative and positive posts of the fuel cell, respectively.

In order for fuel cells to work, a reaction must take place. Hydrogen gas is propelled into the catalyst by pressure on the anode side of the cell. When this hydrogen comes into contact with the platinum contained on the catalyst, the molecule is split into positively charged hydrogen ions and negatively charged electrons. At the same time, oxygen gas is being propelled through the catalyst, producing single oxygen atoms that have a negative charge. These negatively charged oxygen atoms attract the positively charged hydrogen atoms, and they combine with the electrons from the hydrogen reaction to form water.

How does a hydrogen fuel cell work efficiently?

The purpose of studying how fuel cells might power automobiles is to reduce pollution from automobile usage. Researchers are working to determine how efficient automobiles powered by fuel cells can be, with some prototypes testing at around sixty percent energy efficiency. This may seem low, but most gasoline powered automobiles are really only about twenty percent energy efficient. Battery-powered electric cars have an energy efficiency that hovers just above seventy percent. Researchers have the difficult task of trying to determine how to use hydrogen fuel cells on a wide scale in order to produce automobile pollution.

Hydrogen fuel cell issues

There are several problems facing researchers who are trying to determine how to use hydrogen fuel cells for automobile use. One is that the parts needed for hydrogen fuel cells can corrode easily. Scientists must determine a way of manufacturing fuel cells more cost effectively if they are going to be used on a wide scale. Another issue is that fuel cells need to operate at a wide range of temperatures. They must be able to work on a hot summer day topping one hundred degrees and the coldest winter day bottoming out at a temperature below zero. Scientists must determine a way of making fuel cells more durable. Fuel cells must be kept hydrated constantly in order to produce energy, so there is also the problem of keeping fuel cells hydrated within an automobile environment.

There Are 5 Responses So Far. »

  1. Fuel cells definitely offers an environmentally friendly source of electrical current. It acts as a battery that transforms chemical energy produced from from fuel oxidation into electric energy.

  2. I believe hydrogen fuel research or implementaton is worthwhile.This is because it will solve a lot of problems and bring about amazing discoveries maybe in the process of choosing materials that will withstand corrosion and hazards in an environmentally friendly way still.

  3. It's a very interesting topic considering hydrogen looks the best alternative to oil, it's pollution friendly, and will cost around the same price as gas.

  4. They hydrogen fuel cells offer a viable alternative to crude oil. It's amazing why automakers aren't researching this more. It's a no brainer when compared to some of the other alternative fuel sources being considered.

  5. While Hydrogen fuel cells are clearly environmentally friendly, the current methods of getting the hydrogen are not. With current methods (Electrolysis) all we are doing is moving the pollution component away from the car.
    This issue also needs to be addressed.