Fuel cell technology for the future
Fuel cell technology could be the alternate energy source for cars and even corporate businesses.
Monday, September 6, 2010 - 18:15
Photo: Krishnarao Gorrepati
My passion for the environment was initiated with scientific research on fuel cell technology when I was 12. The development of alternative energy has dramatically increased in the past five years. We have all heard of solar, wind and biofuels as possible alternative energy sources; however, fuel cell technology hardly gets mentioned. What is a fuel cell?
For the past five years I have done experimentation with fuel cell technology. When explaining my project to others, I basically describe a fuel cell as a battery — as long as there is chemical energy input, there will always be electrical energy output. A fuel cell, however, is not as big as a car battery. In order for fuel cells to power an actual car, hundreds of fuel cells are stacked on top of each other in order to produce a sufficient voltage. Fuel cells have:
- 100 percent clean emissions
- High efficiency
- Virtually no gaseous emissions
- No combustion
- Quiet operation
- No moving parts in the energy converter
- Unattended or remote operation
- Fuel flexibility
Fuel flexible? Yes. In fact, more than 20 different types of fuel cells exist. They all vary by the type of fuel they use. For example, some fuel cells use hydrogen as a fuel source, whereas others use methanol.
At the present time, fuel cell technology is no longer a novel idea. For several years manufacturers have implemented fuel cell technology in cars, and some fuel cell cars are already on the road driving down the highway. An amazing thought: emission-free vehicles on the roads around the United States. They seem like the cars of tomorrow. Clean. Silent. Emission-free. But it's an amazing feat that car companies, such as General Motors, have already accomplished. The only two words that came to mind when I got to ride in the fuel cell powered Chevrolet Equinox in Washington, D.C., last spring were "simply phenomenal."
Other uses for fuel cells
Our cars are not the only technology that could someday be powered by fuel cells. Coal powers most of our nation's buildings and leaves a large carbon footprint. Fuel cell technology is making its way into corporate America through the Bloom Box. CBS writer Shachar Bar-On notes that the Bloom Box, in essence, works as an emissions-free generator to power large office buildings.
What's in the Bloom Box? Fuel cells, of course. But not using just any type of fuel cell — the fuel cell utilized within the Bloom Box is made with baked beach sand. FedEx, Google and Wal-Mart are just a few of the major corporations that are trying the cutting-edge energy source.
Our world is so close to mass-producing emission-free technologies, yet we are also so far away. Environmental advances need more enthusiasm, awareness and research. Everyone who lives on the planet we call home has a responsibility to get involved in the protection of our environment. The ill effects that climate change is having upon our planet are real and are directly due to the "dirty" technology we have created. As Alan M. Eddison wrote, "Modern technology / Owes ecology / An apology." Hopefully, we can create the technology to slow the progression of climate change.