A hydrogen fuel cell is a technology that converts hydrogen and oxygen into water, and along the way produces energy that can be used in other applications. Currently, most of the talk concerning the use of a hydrogen fuel cell is in the automotive industry. If the technology can be developed to the point it can be produced affordably, it may be the energy source for automobiles for the foreseeable future.
Most people are somewhat familiar with “fuel cells” of a different variety, commonly known as batteries. Batteries, although not technically referred to as a fuel cell, have chemicals in them that produce an electrical current. In alkaline batteries, zinc and manganese oxide are used. However, because the batteries are close-ended systems, the materials inside cannot be replaced. Therefore, they eventually lose their ability to produce current and are referred to as being dead.
A hydrogen fuel cell, on the other hand, does not have to worry about this very big inconvenience. Due to the fact that the materials needed to produce a current, hydrogen and oxygen, are constantly flowing into the cell, there is always current flowing out of the cell. This continual regeneration is one of the big advantages of a hydrogen fuel cell.
A hydrogen fuel cell, especially when used to power a vehicle, can be very energy efficient. In fact, most hydrogen fuel cells that use pure hydrogen have an efficiency rating of nearly 65 percent in automotive applications. By contrast, gasoline-powered vehicles lose a lot of efficiency through the by-product of heat. There is so much heat lost in the conversion of gasoline to mechanical energy that the overall efficiency is approximately 20 percent.
A hydrogen fuel cell offers a number of other advantages over the traditional vehicle powered with gasoline or diesel. First, a hydrogen car no carbon dioxide or other harmful emissions. The only by-product of a hydrogen fuel cell is water. Second, for those countries that do not have many fossil fuel resources, hydrogen fuel cells are a great energy source that uses virtually limitless supplies of hydrogen and oxygen in order to operate.
While the technology is currently at the level where a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle can be developed and there are even some on the road, they are still relatively expensive, compared to their gasoline cousins. The precious metals required for fuel cells and cost of other raw materials make them very expensive to produce. Many scientists feel technological advances will only make it a matter of time before those production costs start to come down. However, in the meantime, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are still out of the price range of the vast majority of the population.