The Power of The Future?
The fuel cell is a relatively old technology that is being given a second look. The earliest description of a fuel cell was in 1839 written by the scientist Sir William Grove. Fuel cells convert energy more efficiently than the energy sources we use today and are almost pollution less. A fuel cell can replace the engine in your car, the battery in a child's toy or your cell phone, even a stationary power plant.
A fuel cell is an apparatus that has hydrogen (H2) on one side and oxygen (O2) on the opposite side separated by a proton exchange membrane. To give a simple explanation of how this works, the protons in the hydrogen pass through the membrane (the correct terminology is the electrolyte, usually Teflon) and move over to the oxygen side. The electrons from the hydrogen are left behind and travel around an external circuit making electricity. Because the proton from the hydrogen has now hooked up with the oxygen, they have made H2O (water) - the emissions.
This simple type of fuel cell is known as a PEM cell and is capable of producing only 0.7 volts, so many cells must be "stacked" to produce enough electricity to power something. Other fuels can be used with fuel cells to produce hydrogen such as natural gas and methanol.
Besides the PEM cell, there are four other types of cells that take their names from the membranes (electrolytes) separating the fuel from the oxygen. They are alkaline, phosphoric acid, molten carbonate and solid oxide. Another type is the direct methanol fuel cell, which as its name suggests uses methanol as the fuel source rather than hydrogen.
Today, fuel cells are being tested and used mostly in transportation with fairly good results. Some fuel cells are being demonstrated as stationary power sources. This is occurring in New York (a police station), with a few demonstration houses in Germany, Japan and the United States.
To find out more about fuel cells visit the following websites:
California Fuel Cell Partnership - automobile companies and fuel suppliers have joined together with the State of California to demonstrate fuel cell vehicles under real day-to-day driving conditions.
Fuel Cells 2000 - The Online Fuel Cell Information Center. Comprehensive site containing information from technology to conferences. A private site of Breakthrough Technologies Institute.
Hydrogenics - This company is committed to commercial development of fuel cell technology.
HyWeb - The Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Information System. Although this website is currently being developed it has many useful links and will soon have a database of companies and products.
Hyper Car Inc. - All the latest and greatest in fuel efficient automotives.
Ballard Power Systems - conducts research and development in proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells. Today, Ballard® fuel cells are widely viewed as viable alternatives to conventional technologies.
Fuel Cells Canada - is a non-profit, national industry association. They consider themselves as a "prime source of services and support to Canadian corporations, educational institutions and business alliances promoting, developing, demonstrating, and deploying fuel cell and related products and services in Canada."
National Fuel Cell Research and Innovation Initiative - This is a partnership between the Government of Canada and the private sector to support and strengthen Canada's fuel cell industry.
Natural Resources Canada - Have to use the search feature once in the site to find comprehensive and technical information on fuel cells.
University of Saskatchewan Library - must use search function once at the site. Has a few, very technical journal articles on fuel cells. NewsLetters