The Future of the Fuel Cell - Part II
(PART 2) Although fuel cell technology was too pricey for use in the automobile, where will we see the hydrogen fuel cell in the future?
- difficulty in establishing an efficient hydrogen-fueling infrastructure
- the high cost of production, and
- ensuring that the production of the hydrogen source is sustainable.
Perhaps, the future of fuel cells does not lie in the automobile, but rather in these important areas:
Public transportation vehicles such as boats, planes and trains would greatly benefit from fuel cells. For trains, it would mean much cleaner travel through areas where pollution levels are already high, such as cities.
Infrastructure would not be as big as a problem with public transport as it would with cars since there are fewer fueling hubs involved with public transport than with cars. For example, for planes, the only infrastructure adjustments would be at the airports. Furthermore, planes would have to refuel less often since fuel cells are more efficient than jet fuel combustion.
The development of a sustainable community requires an affordable and sustainable source of energy, that has minimal impact on the environment. The environmental impact of an energy source is indirectly proportional to its efficiency. The more efficient an energy production system is, the less it harms the environment. (i.e. If something is 100% efficient, then absolutely no energy was lost during the energy production and transfer processes).
A comparison of efficiencies:
- The US electric grid is 33% efficient.
- Internal combustion engines (ICEs) range from 16-20% efficient.
- Fuel cells are typically 40-60% efficient, but since the waste heat can be re-captured for cogeneration, the maximum fuel cell efficiency ranges from 85-90% efficient.
In developing communities, fuel cells should be utilized to take advantage of the high efficiency, low to zero emissions and the renewable source of energy.
The first main benefit of using fuel cells in military transport vehicles is silence. Tanks' motors would make virtually no sound, so enemies could not hear its approach. Currently, military vehicles like the M1 Abrams tank can be heard for miles away.
A second benefit would be increased energy power. Since fuel cells are more efficient than standard motors, a fuel-cell-powered military vehicle would be better able to meet the energy demands of the military's electronic equipment.
A third benefit for the military is that it would be possible to implement fuel cells into their vehicles using the same diesel fueling structure. The diesel would be converted into hydrogen which would be used in the fuel cell.
Finally, and most importantly, fuel cells used in the military would eliminate the problem of importing fuel when a vehicle has run out, especially in a dangerous military zone. They are lighter, more easily portable, and are more efficient energy producers than standard gasoline combustion engines. Transporting fuel during war is not only difficult, but a dangerous dependency. What if the fuel does not arrive on time? What if it's confiscated? etc. Using fuel cells practically ensures that refueling will be kept to a minimum. Furthermore, to refuel a military force with 200,000 gallons of fuel, a CH-47D helicopter needs to consume 130,000 gallons just for transportation of the fuel. (Read more here).
Unlike cities, rural areas do not have easy access to electricity. When there are power outages due to storms and other natural disasters, people in these areas also often wait longer for service to be restored. Often, a generator is used for back-up power, but they are noisy and unhealthy, resulting in numerous deaths each year. Implementing fuel cells as the main source of energy in rural homes would be advantageous because:
- Fuel cells are portable.
- Fuel cells take up little space. They can replace the space of a boiler, but provide the electricity needed for all of a home's heating and energy needs.
- Fuel cells do not need to be refilled every month. No more worrying about running out of oil in the winter, chopping wood, or sky-high electric bills. They are drastically more efficient than oil or gas. Finally, there are many types of fuel cell technologies, which provide for flexibility in terms or energy use. They can run off of pure hydrogen or convert a conventional fuel to hydrogen, and there are many different ways that these processes can be performed.
The advantages of fuel cell technology are numerous. Large amounts of energy can be generated on the spot which eliminates the need to be connected to a central power plant or electric grid. Fuel cells can operate at up to 90% efficiency, which means that most of the energy (pure hydrogen, or another standard fuel) supplied into them will be converted into useful energy. The electric grid has only a fraction of that efficiency due to the loss of energy that occurs during transmission to homes.
Back to Fuel...the Fuel of the Future
Fuel cells will most likely not be produced for automobile use, but algae could. The trouble in the past with using algae for fuel has been making the price competitive to that of oil and gasoline. This problem might have been solved. In addition, the algae would end up reducing CO2 from the atmosphere. Be on the lookout this year for green algae biofuels.