The Big Deal With FUEL CELLS
Hydrogen is increasingly seen as a fuel of the future. Globally, more than 65,000 fuel cells, totaling over 300 MW, were shipped worldwide in 2016.
The third industrial revolution, according to American economic and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin, will create a prosperous economy powered by clean energy and the Internet of Things. Hydrogen will be leveraged as one of the critical sources for generating power, fueling mass transit, powering hospitals, telecom towers, mission-critical systems, and more. Whether on-grid in urban areas or off-grid in remote areas, the world will be a more connected place. And not just people. Things from toasters and refrigerators to cars and factories will also be connected. All of this connectivity will place an even greater reliance on 24x7 electricity and communications. The need for sustainable backup power and off-grid power solutions will take even greater importance.
Hydrogen is increasingly seen as a fuel of the future. Globally, more than 65,000 fuel cells, totaling over 300 MW, were shipped worldwide in 2016. Stationary fuel cells are using hydrogen to generate power at leading companies such as Apple, Verizon and Coca-Cola. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles from Toyota, Honda and Hyundai are coming to market, metropolitan areas are beginning to migrate to hydrogen-fuel buses. Hydrogen refilling stations in California and other states are overcoming the challenges of hydrogen distribution for consumers. Indeed, the US Department of Energy notes that hydrogen and fuel cells are on the verge of a “tipping point”.
Fuel cells can continuously generate electricity as long as they are supplied with fuel (hydrogen) and an oxidant.
What is a Fuel Cell?
First invented in 1839 by William Grove, a fuel cell is an electrochemical energy conversion device that produces electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen into water. Like batteries, fuel cells convert potential chemical energy into electrical energy and generate heat as a by-product. However, the chemical energy is stored inside batteries—rather than generated— they can only operate for a limited duration until they need to be discarded or recharged. Fuel cells, on the other hand, can continuously generate electricity as long as they are supplied with fuel (hydrogen) and an oxidant. Fuel cells rely on a chemical process called oxidation in which hydrogen atoms react with oxygen atoms to form water and release electrons (i.e., electricity). Unlike other electric power sources such as turbogenerators or gensets (combined diesel engines and electric generators), they do not rely on the combustion of fuel and are much more efficient—lacking the 33% energy loss typical of combustion engines due to friction.