Fuel cells

PEM fuel cell

A fuel cell converts the chemicals hydrogen and oxygen into water, and in the process it produces electricity.

They are highly efficient at producing energy and in most cases emit no pollution. If the hydrogen that fuels them is produced using clean, renewable energy like wind, then the entire chain is zero pollution. Hydrogen can also be produced from waste water and other waste materials, as well as being a leftover byproduct of manufacturing and thus available for use.

So, you can see why fuel cells are a Holy Grail of energy. If we can make them work on a mass scale, then oil consumption and carbon emissions would drop substantially.

More from DOE (where the image came from)

  • DJ

    I think fuel cells show great potential– I’ve even cosidered getting one for our homestead. But efficiency is a challenge. I posted some time back about a hydrogen-powered house; the main drawback is, going from electricity to H2 and back is currently only 50% efficient. That means the energy costs twice as much. I think this hurdle can be overcome, but at the moment, it’s a problem.

  • Joe Hartley

    The other major questions is, where do you get the hydrogen from in the first place? Usually by electrolysis of water, which itself requires energy. As the third law of thermodynamics is sometimes restated, nobody here gets out alive.

  • There’s a plan in Denmark to run fuel cell railroads of waste hydrogen from manufacturing as well as hydrogen from wind power.

    I think we’re moving to an era where power comes from a multitude of method and paths, and much more of amicro-power situations, rather than just bulk power from a few sources.

  • DJ

    I had no idea Jim Morrison was a physicist!

    H2 is often seen as a way to capture energy that would otherwise be wasted– such as unused solar or wind. (Wind turbines require a “dump load” to prevent burnout if demand drops; often just an outdoor heating element, the dump load could surely be put to better use.)

    Oil refineries burn off plenty of H2 in their flares– a byproduct of hydrocarbon cracking. This, too, could be put to far better use.

    Recent articles have also reported favorsbly on research to use anaerobic bacteria to prodice H2 from organic materials.

    I think Bob is right in that what we NEED is a broad base of various micro-power sources. Those of us in a position to generate our own will do just that. But the increasing size of corporations is likely to oppose it on a larger scale: it’s just too hard to do business that way. I see two obvious possible results: (1) micro gets stamped out by global corporations, or (2) local businesses dominate energy production. The realm of possibilities between them is vast.

  • This is actually one of the few blogs that I want to keep up with.

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