Fuel cell

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A fuel cell is a device that uses hydrogen (or hydrogen-rich fuel) and oxygen to create electricity by an electrochemical process. If pure hydrogen is used as a fuel, fuel cells emit only heat and water as a by-product. Several fuel cell types are under development, and they have a variety of potential applications.
Fuel cells are being developed to power passenger vehicles, commercial buildings, homes, and even small devices such as laptop computers.What Is A Fuel Cell?In principle, a fuel cell operates like a battery. Unlike a battery, a fuel cell does not run down or require recharging. It will produce energy in the form of electricity and heat as long as fuel is supplied.

A fuel cell consists of two electrodes sandwiched around an electrolyte. Oxygen passes over one electrode and hydrogen over the other, generating electricity, water and heat.Hydrogen fuel is fed into the "anode" of the fuel cell. Oxygen (or air) enters the fuel cell through the cathode. Encouraged by a catalyst, the hydrogen atom splits into a proton and an electron, which take different paths to the cathode. The proton passes through the electrolyte. The electrons create a separate current that can be utilized before they return to the cathode, to be reunited with the hydrogen and oxygen in a molecule of water.

How Fuel Cells Work?
Fuel Cell Components & Function: A fuel cell is a device that uses hydrogen (or hydrogen-rich fuel) and oxygen to create electricity by an electrochemical process. A single fuel cell consists of an electrolyte sandwiched between two thin electrodes (a porous anode and cathode). While there are different fuel cell types, all work on the same principle: Hydrogen, or a hydrogen-rich fuel, is fed to the anode where a catalyst separates hydrogen's negatively charged electrons from positively charged ions (protons).

At the cathode, oxygen combines with electrons and, in some cases, with species such as protons or water, resulting in water or hydroxide ions, respectively. For polymer exchange membrane (PEM) and phosphoric acid fuel cells, protons move through the electrolyte to the cathode to combine with oxygen and electrons, producing water and heat. For alkaline, molten carbonate, and solid oxide fuel cells, negative ions travel through the electrolyte to the anode where they combine with hydrogen to generate water and electrons.

The electrons from the anode side of the cell cannot pass through the membrane to the positively charged cathode; they must travel around it via an electrical circuit to reach the other side of the cell. This movement of electrons is an electrical current. The amount of power produced by a fuel cell depends upon several factors, such as fuel cell type, cell size, the temperature at which it operates, and the pressure at which the gases are supplied to the cell. Still, a single fuel cell produces enough electricity for only the smallest applications. Therefore, individual fuel cells are typically combined in series into a fuel cell stack.

A typical fuel cell stack may consist of hundreds of fuel cells. Direct hydrogen fuel cells produce pure water as the only emission. This water is typically released as water vapour. Fuel cells release less water vapour than internal combustion engines producing the same amount of power. Pure Hydrogen: Most fuel cell systems are fueled with pure hydrogen gas, which is stored onboard as a compressed gas. Since hydrogen gas has a low energy density, it is difficult to store enough hydrogen to generate the same amount of power as with conventional fuels such as gasoline.
This is a significant problem for fuel cell vehicles, which need to have a driving range of 300-400 miles between refueling to be competitive gasoline vehicles. High-pressure tanks and other technologies are being developed to allow larger amounts of hydrogen to be stored in tanks small enough for passenger cars and trucks. In addition to onboard storage problems, our current infrastructure for getting liquid fuel to consumers can't be used for gaseous hydrogen.

New facilities and delivery systems must be built, which will require significant time and resources. Costs for large-scale deployment will be substantial. Hydrogen-rich Fuels: Fuel cell systems can also be fueled with hydrogen-rich fuels, such as methanol, natural gas, gasoline, or gasified coal. In many fuel cell systems, these fuels are passed through onboard "reformers" that extract hydrogen from the fuel.

Onboard reforming has several advantages:There are also several disadvantages to reforming hydrogen-rich fuels: Onboard reformers add to the complexity, cost, and maintenance demands of fuel cell systems.High-temperature fuel cell systems can reform fuels within the fuel cell itself-a process called internal reforming-removing the need for onboard reformers and their associated costs. Internal reforming, however, does emit carbon dioxide, just like onboard reforming. In addition, impurities in the gaseous fuel can reduce cell efficiency.

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