Hydrogen fuel cells will have a major role in conserving fuel and storing power from intermittent renewable sources. Fuel Cell Power is working with other organizations in order to expedite the introduction of efficient and renewable energy systems. Fuel Cell Power was set up to continue the work of the late Dr F T Bacon, OBE, FRS, the developer of the first practical working fuel cell which was successfully utilized in the Apollo space programme.
Tom Bacon believed that local fuel cells could be introduced to provide clean, efficient sources of electricity, independent of the national grid. His vision extended far into the future and he was concerned about the effects of burning fossil fuels and discharging the products of combustion into the atmosphere. Apart from the damage caused to our cities and countryside by air pollution, climate change could pose a danger for future generations.
However, the basic difficulty in introducing fuel cells is that existing technologies are refined through practical experience and the long development times make it more difficult to introduce and fund new, more effective methods. We have lost too much time. For decades, scientists have been trying to counter the gross inefficiencies in our energy production and distribution infrastructures and to encourage the use of more benign energy sources. Technical development takes years and the replacement of existing technologies takes decades but we have little time left before we could face irreversible damage to the world’s climate.
Fuel Cell Power continues to call for the conservation of oil and gas resources, the utilisation of energy which is normally wasted and modifications to the centrally dominated fuel supply infrastructure. When natural gas is used in the central production of electricity, about two thirds of the available energy is wasted, mainly because it is uneconomic to transport the heat. This means that a further quantity of gas is required to provide heat in a building, so that twice as much gas is used in the average building than would be required if the electricity was generated on site and the heat utilized. Fuel cells are clean, quiet and efficient, so they can be used on site, in homes, schools or hospitals to provide energy from renewable energy sources.
Although there has been much progress with the development of fuel cells for cars, volume production is likely to be at least five years away. In the interim, stationary applications are likely to provide the foundation of the hydrogen and fuel cell infrastructure. Fuel Cell Power is working with engineers who have developed less expensive systems, which have sufficient energy density for stationary applications and will evolve in due course to power road vehicles.
We have lost 20 years of development time, during which the British engineering base has fallen into decline. This is not just our view, but the conclusion of several recent Government sponsored reports. Global warming gases continue to increase and there is no sense of urgency in dealing with the fundamental need to change our inefficient use of fossil fuels.
Fuel Cell Power provides information through its website and newsletter about all types of fuel cells and proposes ways of overcoming the obstacles to their introduction. Hydrogen fuel cell systems conserve energy and could facilitate the storage of intermittent renewable power. We are working with developers and manufacturers of efficient and renewable energy technologies in order to encourage the transfer of future investment from our present inefficient infrastructure to sustainable energy systems in the UK and throughout the world.
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