are used to create 12v, or in many electrical appliances wherewe use a number of batteries to create a higher voltage, sofuel cells can be built up in stacks. A fuel cell stack produces ahigher voltage than an individual fuel cell. The amount of currentthat a fuel cell produces is largely dependent upon the size ofthe active area where the chemical reaction is taking place.
Fuel cell eﬃ ciency
One of the great advantages of fuel cells is that unlikeconventional heat engines, such as the internal combustionengine (the sort you ﬁnd in your car or generator), or externalcombustion engines (such as steam and Stirling engines), thefuel cell is not constrained by the Carnot cycle eﬃ ciency (thatis to say the rule of thermodynamics which govern the eﬃ ciencyof conventional engines) because the fuel cells do not operateusing a thermal cycle. As a result, fuel cells are theoretically farmore eﬃ cient than heat engines ‒ which results in extractingmore energy from our fuel. However, work is still in progress toreach those theoretically attainable eﬃ ciencies. From practicalexperience eﬃ ciencies of 30% are being attained ‒ whichcorrelates with those ﬁgures obtained by Paul in Montreal fromWikipedia on the Green Building Forum. Indeed, further to Paulscomments about energy storage in batteries, projects like HARI(see page 64), show how both technologies can be successfullyintegrated providing eﬃ cient short term storage, with thecapacity for longer-term storage of energy in hydrogen ‒ andthe ability to transport this energy easily or use it as a transportfuel.
The hydrogen economy
With peak oil, and the possibility of peak coal, peak gas and peakuranium, people are looking for new solutions to meet our energyneeds. The hydrogen economy is one proposed way of meetingour energy needs more sustainably.It is important to note, that hydrogen is not used as afuel but as a carrier for energy that is produced using othermeans. Hydrogen is a near ideal energy carrier and permits adecentralised energy infrastructure ‒ supporting the argumentfor small scale, local energy production. It can also ﬁt withinthe framework of our present large scale energy generationinfrastructure ‒ and the ability to store it eliminates many ofthe intermittency problems that are often discussed aboutrenewables.Hydrogen is the ﬁrst element on the periodic table for a veryspecial reason. It is the simplest of all chemicals, and also thelightest. We do not need to fear running out of hydrogen, asit is the most abundant element in the universe. Hydrogen isa fantastic energy carrier and to understand what makes it sogood, you need to look at why carbon based energy carriers areso bad. When a carbon based fuel burns, it produces carbondioxide, a greenhouse gas. In addition, when carbon is burnedin an internal combustion engine, impurities in the fuel leadto sulphurous emissions that lead to acid rain, and the largenitrogen content of the air, coupled with the high temperaturesreached inside the engine, promote the production of NOX.Furthermore, engines also emit large amounts of unburnthydrocarbons, VOCs and masses of particulates. The damagecaused by burning carbon based fuels can clearly be seen inplaces like Los Angeles, which is permanently shrouded in aphotochemical smog.We have seen the evil of carbon based fuels, which areresponsible for the UKs transition to fuels with a lower carboncontent ‒ typiﬁed by the dash for gas, where coal was usurpedby natural gas as the energy of choice. However, the hydrogeneconomy promises a future without carbon.Hydrogen is colourless, odourless and tasteless, non toxic, andproduces water as its only by-product. However, it is dangerousif mixed with air or oxygen because of the ﬁre and explosionrisk. In principle, it can asphyxiate through denying the bodyaccess to oxygen. Contrast this to carbon based fuels whichare also explosive, cause damage to the ecosystem, personalhealth problems, and potential future fuel insecurity. Our globalprosperity in the past couple of centuries has been built oncarbon. Unfortunately carbon fuels have been burnt with littleconsideration for future supply, and the damage done to theenvironment. After much development, our carbon basedengines still only reach around 20% eﬃ ciency. Furthermore,our energy is currently generated centrally, which, due to lossesin transmission and conversion, can be horribly ineﬃ cient. Bytransitioning to a hydrogen economy, the future is open fordistributed generation.
Types of fuel cell
There are a large number of fuel cell types in research anddevelopment by a large number of companies. At the moment,the state of fuel cell technology can be broken down into adistinct number of types, all with their own distinct characteris-tics, which make them ideal for certain applications.
So how is hydrogen made?
There are a number of ways that we can get our hydrogen. It is abit of a myth that hydrogen is a fuel. It isnt really, as there is nosuch thing as a hydrogen mine.
At school, you might have used a Hoﬀman apparatus in scienceclass. A Hoﬀman apparatus has a reservoir of water throughwhich is passed an electric current. The electric currentdisassociates the hydrogen from the oxygen in the water. Thegas bubbles oﬀ from the electrodes and is collected in separatestorage containers. It is observed that twice as much hydrogenis produced as oxygen. Taking a little bit of time to think aboutthis, we see that the chemical formula for water is H
O. Thismakes sense as we can see that there is twice as much hydrogenin water as oxygen. The hydrogen produced by the electrolysisprocess is very pure. Some fuel cells require a very pure form ofhydrogen so this is ideal.The one disadvantage of electrolysis is that signiﬁcantamounts of electrical energy are needed for the process. Whilstthis electricity can be generated using clean, green renewableenergy, there are also many champions of a nuclear-hydrogeneconomy using supposedly cheap nuclear energy to producehydrogen ‒ this would leave us with a toxic legacy of waste andwould negate many of the beneﬁts of a clean hydrogen economy.
By combining high temperature steam, and methane, it is