Imagine filling your tank with a garden hose, driving 5000 kilometers, and then stopping for a drink out of your tailpipe! This, ladies and gentlemen, is the future. But how is this possible? With a device called a 'fuel cell'. These cells run primarily off of water, but can run from many different fluids including methanol, gasoline, and deisel in a pinch. How do these fuel cells work, and what impact will they have on the future?
In this century we have seen huge technological breakthroughs, things like the lightbulb, the automobile, the telephone, and more recently the computer with internet capabilities. But even with the light-speed technology we have today, we're still running our vehicles off polluting, environmentally unsafe fuels like gasoline and deisel. What can be done about this? The reply has been shouted back from Ballard and many united automobile manufaturers, "FUEL CELLS!" A fuel cell is a new experimental device that can very efficiently run off of any liquid containing hydrogen, and they're planned to replace gasoline engines.
When you rev up the engine in your new Ballard outfitted Chev, this is what goes on inside your fuel cell engine: The hydrogen gas from the first container or tank goes through the first 'electrode' (of which there are two) into the 'electrolyte'. Then oxygen (O2) gas from another tank goes through the second electrode into the electrolyte. Inside the first electrode there are 'hydroxl ions' which, when they meet the hydrogen, electrochemically react releasing electrons from the hydrogen and forming water (H2O). The hydroxl ions are negatively charged, so that means the whole first electrode is negatively charged too. The negatively charged ions flow to form the 'outside current'. The same process occurs at the second electrode, but instead the electrons are positively charged to form the 'inside current'. In a common fuel cell, the electrode is dissolved potassium hydroxide and the oxidizer is oxygen gas. The potassium hydroxide is in potassium ions (postively charged) and hydroxl ions made up of one hydrogen ion and one oxygen ion (negatively charged). In other words, water in water out.
"In the case of a hydrogen-oxygen with an alkali metal hydroxide electrolyte, the anode reaction is 2H2 + 4OH - + 4H2O + 4E and the cathode reaction is O2 + 2H2O + 4E + 4OH -."
--"Fuel Cell" Encarta 1994
For the fuel cell to be such a big development, there must be certain advantages over previous types of fuel that have been used. For instance, the advantages a fuel cell has over a conventional battery are that a fuel cell doesn't need electrical recharging, has a greater range, and the electrodes in a fuel cell don't change, whereas the electrodes in a battery can be used up. The advantages over a conventional generator are that a fuel cell is much more heat efficient, but a big disadvantage is the price of a fuel cell.
As you can see and probably imagine, the battle in the future will be between the fuel cell and electric/solar powered cars. I can say right now that my money's on the fuel cell, but there are many opinions out there. Both have large advantages over fossil fuel powered vehicles, who ever said the future wouldn't be good? The advantages that a fuel cell has over petrol are that it's much cleaner and efficient, gasoline is nonrenewable and much more expensive, and gasoline isn't very safe to transport. As for the fuel cell versus battery/solar car, a solar car can only be driven in the sun, it's very expensive, and batteries with an equivelant amout of energy as a tank of gas take up 17 times more room and weigh 45 times more. "Power plants are going to be just like furnaces. They're going to be appliances." --Joe Maceda, Power Technologies. Different people beleive in different energy sources, however...
"It is hard to understand the implications of a transition to hydrogen power: A transformation of the auto and petrochemical industries. A complete makeover of the electric industries. An epochal geopolitical shift as global reliance on Middle East oil comes to an end and international trade balances are re-aligned. Not to mention a drastic decline in air pollution, oil spills, acid rain, and greenhouse gas emissions. Besides that, nothing much." --Jaques Leslie
Two conflicting quotes from an electricity believer and a hydrogen believer. Either way, hydrogen fuel technologies will have a huge impact on the future of transportation and is already popular in British Columbia for other power needs. Best of all, just using water as a fuel is so clean and easy that if you ever hit empty, you could just pour the remainder of of your Mickie D's Coke into the tank and keep on truckin'. This is the future of power, even the fuel cell itself which replaces the engine has much fewer moving parts which can be damaged. All in all, a fuel cell for your car might be a large investment, but filling up your tank for around a dollar every 5000 kilometers, that's technology!
Through exploring the fuel cell, it's possibilties, and how it works, it really makes me wonder what the future can bring. It is a huge leap in technology, and the benefits towards the environment that we damaged for years with fossil fuels will be great. Automobile manufacturers around the world are working in conjunction towards this goal of an emission-free society and future. If only I'd have invested in Ballard! Maybe they'll make a hydrogen-powered Mercedes-Benz 600...