What are fuel cells?

“Clean energy is the key to existence”

This is one of the most valid statements in the current world, we need energy to survive on this planet, there is no other home. With the current energy initiatives like solar, wind, and hydropower we need more and more tech-solutions to neutralize the on-going effects of climate change and environmental adversities, we are still far behind many of the United Nations Sustainable Goals, although all the efforts like ISA (International Solar Alliance), the ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) must be appreciated still they are things of the future.

We need to think about now too, what can be done now, to reduce the pressure on non-renewable energy resources and our dependency on coal, it might not put a full stop to emissions but would reduce the count, one such solution would be to expand the use of the ‘fuel cells’.

Fuel Cells

An electrochemical device that efficiently converts the chemical energy of a conventional fuel into low voltage, direct current electrical energy. It can produce electricity by using pure hydrogen and oxygen. Since the conversion (theoretically) is carried out isothermally, the Carnot limitation on efficiency does not apply.

Fuel cells are flexible meaning they can be manufactured according to a desired size or application, viz, there are fuel cells that are of the size of a pencil that can generate few milliwatts to fuel cells that can generate a large amount of power.

Fuel cells are used in space-related projects, fuel cells powered some space crafts, such as Gemini, Skylab, and Apollo since the by-product of this reaction is water so the astronauts used the same water to drink, fuel cells are still relevant when it comes to providing water and electricity to the space shuttles.

Pros and Cons of Fuel Cells:

Some pros of using a fuel cell are as follows-

  1. Fuel cells require lesser space than conventional power plants.
  2. The capacity can be increased as per demand without causing pollution
  3. Less maintenance is required and then it can be installed near the use point hence reducing losses due to transmission.
  4. High conversion efficiencies
  5. Odorless and noise-free operations
  6. Simple, safe to use and fuel cells have a long life.
  7. No water is needed to cool the system or plant.

High initial cost and low service life are some of the cons of the fuel cell.


Fuel cell power plant

Fuel hydrogen (preferably) is supplied to the fuel processing unit where the fuel is purified and supplied to fuel cell modules, this is where the fuel energy is converted into D.C power electrochemically.

Many fuel cells are stacked together to form a module further several modules are interconnected to form a plant producing power.

The power conditioning unit uses an inverter that converts DC output to AC output, the standard rated supply being 3-phase, 400V, 50Hz/60Hz, or single-phase 230V/110V, 50Hz/60Hz. Some Commonly used modules are of size 200-250kW.

Advantages of fuel cell power plants

  1. Eco-friendly and noiseless plants.
  2. Capacity ranging from 5kW to 25MW available.
  3. More efficient (55% efficiency) compared to thermal power plants (30% efficiency).
  4. Apart from electric power these plants also provide hot water and steam.
  5. Wide variety of choices available.

We need this now, now is the time, if fuel cells can be used to power space crafts I think it is safe to use it here on Earth, rather than investing in non–renewable energy resources, government(s) should divert some of the money into developing and improving this technology to reach and utilize the maximum potential of a fuel cell.

Remember people together we can and we will Save the Environment!

Source and References:
Non-Conventional Energy Sources and Utilisation, R.K Rajput

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