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What is a fuel cell?

Advantages & Benefits of Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies

Bridging the Gap between Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Energy Technologies and Traditional Industries

Advantages by Application

 

Advantages & Benefits of Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies


Fuel Cells

Hydrogen

Fuel Cells

High Efficiency – Like generators and other engines, fuel cells are energy conversion devices – they convert stored energy within a fuel into usable energy. A fuel cell uses an electrochemical reaction to extract energy directly in the form of heat and electricity, both of which can be utilised at the point of generation. Internal combustion engines extract the stored energy via a controlled explosive reaction which is used to drive a dynamo which in turn is used to generate electricity. Because fuel cells convert the fuel to energy in one step with out the need for multiple steps, they are able to achieve much higher conversion efficiencies. For example, PEM & SOFC have electrical efficiencies up to 60% and MCFC can achieve combined electrical and thermal efficiencies of over 90% when used for CHP. Fuel Cell vehicles can be up to 2-3 times more efficient than current gasoline vehicles and can achieve the equivalant of 60-70 miles to the gallon. According to the National Academies of Science and the NHA's Energy Evolution Study, fuel cell vehicles can reduce light duty demand for gasoline to almost nothing by 2050 and reduce CO2 emissions by 80%.

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Reliability & Maintenance – The only moving parts in fuel cells are involved with water, heat and air management (pumps, blowers, compressors). When compared to internal combustion engines, there are considerably less moving parts and these require less maintenance (no oil changes every 150 hours). Less maintenance means less site visits or trips to the garage and reduced operating costs. Fuel cells can be monitored remotely and any problems dealt with quickly.

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Low Emissions – Using hydrogen, PEM fuel cells only emit water at the point of use. Even when using hydrocarbon fuels, fuel cells emit considerably less emissions than other combustion based technologies, this is for two reasons. Firstly their higher efficiency means they require less fuel to generate the same energy and secondly because there is no combustion, there are negligible NOx or SOx emissions and no particulate emissions.

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Very Low Noise and Vibrations – Few moving parts means all you will ever hear of a fuel cell is either a compressor, blower or pump (think of the fan in a desktop computer). This also means that the fuel cell doesn’t vibrate at any noticeable rate (an order of magnitude less than a combustion engine).

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Fuel Flexibility Fuel Flexibility – Different types of fuel cells can operate on a range of different fuels. PEM, Phosphoric Acid and Alkaline fuel cells require pure hydrogen (High Temperature PEM fuel cells require les pure hydrogen), Direct Methanol Fuel Cells require methanol and Solid Oxide & Molten Carbonate fuel cells can operate on a range of hydrocarbons (natural gas, propane, methane, syngas). Hydrogen can be produced via electrolysis or reforming of hydrocarbons.

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Distributed Generation & Combined Heat and Power – Fuel cells offer the ability to generate electricity and heat at the point of use. Traditional electrical infrastructure means that large amounts of electricity are generated at central locations where the resulting heat is not usually used effectively. A coal-fired power station can be as low as 30% efficient (effectively, for every 3 lumps of coal you put in, your only getting the energy from one of them) and most of the waste is lost via heat (cooling towers). There are also losses in transmission which range from 7% in the UK to 11% in the USA. This electricity is then used to generate heat in the home (electric boilers, heaters, hobs and kettles) which is extremely inefficient. By generating the electricity at the point of use the heat that is produced can by used to heat buildings from as small as houses to as large as skyscrapers. MCFC technology can also be used to generate fuel (hydrogen) as well as power, heat and cooling (quad-generation) to providing decentralised hydrogen production for fuelling hydrogen vehicles. In CHP applications fuel cell can achieve 80-90% efficiency. In doestic applications fuel cell can reduced overall energy demand by 30%.

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Hydrogen

Production – Currently the majority of hydrogen is produced from chemical processing industry (petrochemical and chlor-alkali), but hydrogen can also be produced from electrolysis using renewable energy making it a very low emission fuel or by reforming hydrocarbons. To eliminate costs of storage and distribution, hydrogen can be produced on demand for applications such as home refuelling and backup power.

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Safety – Hydrogen has been used in multiple industries (hospitals, welding, glass making) for a long time and according to Air Products, it has the best safety record of any industrial gas. Hydrogen is negatively associated with the Hindenburg disaster, in fact investigations have concluded that it was the coating on the airship that ignited and caused the fire. Hydrogen is the lightest of all gases and disperses very quickly, it is also non-polluting and hazardous to the surrounding environment (unlike gasoline a spillage / leak will not cause an environmental disaster). Hydrogen, like natural gas and petrol, is a fuel and will burn when ignited. Hydrogen is only explosive when it is able to build up in a enclosed space, which is very difficult as it has a habit of escaping (hydrogen is the smallest of all elements). As long as appropriate safety procedures are followed, as they should with any fuel, hydrogen is a safe fuel.

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