Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology
Successful and highly adaptable, hydrogen fuel cell technology works on the most abundant gas in the universe and can be free from emissions so why hasn’t the entire world been taken over by fuel cells?..
Fuel cells have been with us since 1839, the initial being produced by Sir William Grove, only thirty nine years following the battery invention by Alessandro Volto.
But research and development into hydrogen fuel cell technology didn’t really get going until the 1960’s when NASA’s space program included the development of fuel cells.
The first showings for automobiles and fixed applications occurred in the 1990’s and 2000’s, making hydrogen fuel cells a comparatively young science.
Up to now, hydrogen fuel cells have flourished in specific areas, for example space stations and satellites, factory fork lifts and power back ups for important facilities such as banks and data centers.
The price tag on hydrogen production, the problems with storage and the cost of fuel cells have been the main hurdles to overcome. Along with the need to increase the purity of the fuel.
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cost
Cost is definitely the key obstacle to the wider commercialization of hydrogen fuel cells. Platinum, a very costly and difficult to find metal is required by the vast majority of PEM fuel cells.
However, the quantity of platinum they considerably require has fallen, and ongoing R&D initiatives are seeking to increase decrease the amount required, or avoid it entirely.
Other styles of fuel cells do not require platinum or other expensive catalysts.
Nearly three quarters of matter found in the universe contains Hydrogen. However as a gas, which is it’s natural state, it does not exist on this planet.
It has to be produced from chemical substances such as water or hydrocarbons. This technique requires a lot of energy that can be supplied by renewable green energy sources.
The least expensive method is to extract hydrogen from hydrocarbons. the procedure produces greenhouse gases and hazardous air pollution but significantly less than would be emitted by hydrocarbon burning.
America presently produces about 3 billion cubic ft of hydrogen each day. This is the amount needed for about forty million electric vehicles powered by fuel cells.
As hydrogen is the lightest of all elements it is not easy to store. It has to be heavily pressurized
and contained in gas cylinders. Saving it as a liquid requires compression and getting the temperature down to minus 250 degrees centigrade.
Another method is to use a catalyst on stored hydrocarbons or alcohols and capture the hydrogen produced. This method produces some pollution, but significantly less than a combustion engine.
Purity Of Hydrogen Fuel
Hydrogen fuel cells ideally need to operate using an impurity free fuel. Combustion engines are usually more tolerant to contaminants, and with battery power there is no fuel at all.
Two more big difficulties are social acceptance and financial issues rather than the hydrogen fuel cell technology itself.
Insufficient Fueling Facilities
This a catch 22 situation. Companies don’t want to spend money on fuel stations for vehicles until the automobile manufacturers produce the vehicles.
On the other hand automobile manufacturers won’t produce the vehicles until there is a reasonable network of fueling stations around the country.
Furthermore, hydrogen has to compete with a pre-existing fuel infrastructure (gasoline) set up at enormous cost by the transportation industry sector.
However this issue can be resolved as the current gasoline infrastructure didn’t happen all at once. Neither did charging points for electric vehicles.
The first mass produced electric vehicle powered by fuel cells was produced in 2014 by Hyundai. In America in Oct 2015 Toyota Mirai Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles were being sold.
State authorities and vehicle manufacturers are taking actions to help ensure that a hydrogen fueling network will be established.
The state of California along with allies in Honda and Toyota are at the forefront with fity fueling stations planned to be in place by the end of 2016.
Air Liquide and Toyota are working together to produce a hydrogen system in the North East. And the folk at the Dept. of Energy, in particular at http://h2usa.org are attempting to develop one nationally.
Concerns With Using Hydrogen
For most people, as soon as you mention hydrogen, they think of Hiroshama or the Hindenberg disaster.
Yet hydrogen is a lot less intimidating than it appears to be. It is not toxic, is colorless, has no smell and is safe to inhale to a degree.
As all fuels are flammable then so is hydrogen. However in one respect it is safer than gasoline because it disperses quickly as it is lighter than air.
In America, hydrogen is regularly piped through hundreds of miles of pipe lines without any untoward events taking place.
And more than seventy million gallons of liquid hydrogen are transported safely each year.
In fact in the U.S. it has been made, stored, and shipped in a safe manner for over 50 years.
Conquering this black cloud hanging over hydrogen should not be impossible.