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Categories:Types, School Work
Published by: Tathagata Chakraborty on May 18, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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 Building a plastic hydrogen bomb . Building you own solar battery . A flat panel sola  battery . Build a hydrogen fuel cell . 
Build a hydrogen fuel cell.
Click on image for a larger pictureA
 fuel cell 
is a device that converts a fuel such as hydrogen, alcohol, gasoline, or methaneinto electricity directly. A hydrogen fuel cell produces electricity without any pollution,since pure water is the only byproduct.Hydrogen fuel cells are used in spacecraft and other high-tech applications where a clean,efficient power source is needed.You can make a hydrogen fuel cell in your kitchen in about 10 minutes, and demonstratehow hydrogen and oxygen can combine to produce clean electrical power.Click on image for a larger picture
To make the fuel cell, we need the following:
One foot of platinum coated nickel wire, or pure platinum wire. Since this is not acommon household item, we carry platinum coated nickel wirein our catalog.
A popsicle stick or similar small piece of wood or plastic.
A 9 volt battery clip.
A 9 volt battery.
Some transparent sticky tape.
A glass of water.
A volt meter.The first step is to cut the platinum coated wire into two six inch long pieces, and windeach piece into a little coiled spring that will be the
in our fuel cell. I woundmine on the end of the test lead of my volt meter, but a nail, an ice pick, or a coat hanger will do nicely as a coil form.Click on image for a larger picture Next, we cut the leads of the battery clip in half and strip the insulation off of the cutends. Then we twist the bare battery lead wires onto the ends of the platinum coatedelectrodes, as shown in the photo. The battery clip will be attached to the electrodes, andtwo wires will also be attached to the electrodes, and will later be used to connect to thevolt meter.Click on image for a larger pictureThe electrodes are then taped securely to the popsicle stick. Last, the popsicle stick istaped securely to the glass of water, so that the electrodes dangle in the water for nearlytheir entire length. The twisted wire connections must stay out of the water, so only the platinum coated electrodes are in the water. Now connect the red wire to the positive terminal of the volt meter, and the black wire tothe negative (or "common") terminal of the volt meter. The volt meter should read 0 voltsat this point, although a tiny amount of voltage may show up, such as 0.01 volts.Click on image for a larger pictureYour fuel cell is now complete.To operate the fuel cell, we need to cause bubbles of hydrogen to cling to one electrode,and bubbles of oxygen to cling to the other. There is a very simple way to do this.We touch the 9 volt battery to the battery clip (we don't need to actually clip it on, since itwill only be needed for a second or two).
Touching the battery to the clip causes the water at the electrodes to split into hydrogenand oxygen, a process called
. You can see the bubbles form at the electrodeswhile the battery is attached.Click on image for a larger picture Now we remove the battery. If we were not using platinum coated wire, we would expectto see the volt meter read zero volts again, since there is no battery connected.However, platinum acts as a
, something that makes it easier for the hydrogen andoxygen to recombine.The electrolysis reaction reverses. Instead of putting electricity into the cell to split thewater, hydrogen and oxygen combine to make water again, and produce electricity.Click on image for a larger pictureWe initially get a little over two volts from the fuel cell. As the bubbles pop, dissolve inthe water, or get used up by the reaction, the voltage drops, quickly at first, then moreslowly.Click on image for a larger pictureAfter a minute or so, the voltage declines much more slowly, as most of the decline isnow due only to the gasses being used up in the reaction that produces the electricity. Notice that we are storing the energy from the 9 volt battery as hydrogen and oxygen bubbles.We could instead bubble hydrogen and oxygen from some other source over theelectrodes, and still get electricity. Or we could produce hydrogen and oxygen during theday from solar power, and store the gasses, then use them in the fuel cell at night. Wecould also store the gasses in high pressure tanks in an electric car, and generate theelectricity the car needs from a fuel cell.
How does it do that? 
We have two things going on in this project — the
of water into hydrogenand oxygen gasses, and the recombining of the gasses to produce electricity. We will look into each step separately.

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