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Fuel cell

Fuel cell Toyota FCHV fuel cell vehicle A fuel cell is an <a href=electrochemical device similar to a battery, but differing from the latter in that it is designed for continuous replenishment of the reactants consumed; i.e. it produces electricity from an external fuel supply of hydrogen and oxygen as opposed to the limited internal energy storage capacity of a battery. Additionally, the electrodes within a battery react and change as a battery is charged or discharged, whereas a fuel cell's electrodes are catalytic and relatively stable. Typical reactants used in a fuel cell are hydrogen on the anode side and oxygen on the cathode side (a hydrogen cell). Typically in fuel cells, reactants flow in and reaction products flow out, and continuous long-term operation is feasible virtually as long as these flows are maintained. Fuel cells are often considered to be very attractive in modern applications for their high efficiency and ideally emission-free use, in contrast to currently more common fuels such as methane or natural gas that generate carbon dioxide . The only by-product of a fuel cell operating on pure hydrogen is water vapor . There is concern, however, about the energy- consuming process of manufacturing the hydrogen. Manufacturing hydrogen requires a hydrogen carrier (typically fossil fuels , though water is an alternative), as well as electricity, which is widely generated by conventional fuels (fossil fuel or nuclear power) . While alternative energy sources like wind and solar power could also be used, they are presently prohibitively expensive. In this regard, hydrogen fuel technology itself cannot be said to reduce fossil fuel dependence. " id="pdf-obj-0-5" src="pdf-obj-0-5.jpg">

Toyota FCHV fuel cell vehicle

A fuel cell is an electrochemical device similar to a battery, but differing from the latter in that it is designed for continuous replenishment of the reactants consumed; i.e. it produces electricity from an external fuel supply of hydrogen and oxygen as opposed to the limited internal energy storage capacity of a battery. Additionally, the electrodes within a battery react and change as a battery is charged or discharged, whereas a fuel cell's electrodes are catalytic and relatively stable.

Typical reactants used in a fuel cell are hydrogen on the anode side and oxygen on the cathode side (a hydrogen cell). Typically in fuel cells, reactants flow in and reaction products flow out, and continuous long-term operation is feasible virtually as long as these flows are maintained.

Fuel cells are often considered to be very attractive in modern applications for their high efficiency and ideally emission-free use, in contrast to currently more common fuels such as methane or natural gas that generate carbon dioxide. The only by-product of a fuel cell operating on pure hydrogen is water vapor. There is concern, however, about the energy- consuming process of manufacturing the hydrogen. Manufacturing hydrogen requires a hydrogen carrier (typically fossil fuels, though water is an alternative), as well as electricity, which is widely generated by conventional fuels (fossil fuel or nuclear power). While alternative energy sources like wind and solar power could also be used, they are presently prohibitively expensive. In this regard, hydrogen fuel technology itself cannot be said to reduce fossil fuel dependence.

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Science

Fuel cells are not constrained by the maximum Carnot cycle efficiency as combustion engines are. Consequently, they can have very high efficiencies in converting chemical energy to electrical energy. See the talk page for a discussion.

In the archetypal example of a hydrogen/oxygen proton-exchange membrane (or "polymer electrolyte") fuel cell (PEMFC), a proton-conducting polymer membrane separates the anode and cathode sides. Each side has an electrode, typically carbon paper coated with platinum catalyst.

On the anode side, hydrogen diffuses to the anode catalyst where it dissociates into protons and electrons. The protons are conducted through the membrane to the cathode, but the electrons are forced to travel in an external circuit (supplying power) because the membrane is electrically insulating.

On the cathode catalyst, oxygen molecules react with the electrons (which have travelled through the external circuit) and protons to form water.

In this example, the only waste product is water vapor and/or liquid water.

Fuel cells cannot store energy like a battery, but in some applications, like stand-alone power plants based on discontinuous sources (solar, wind power), they are combined with electrolyzers and storage systems to form an energy storage system. The round-trip efficiency (electricity to hydrogen and back to electricity) of such plants is between 30 and 40%.

In addition to pure hydrogen, researchers have used other, hydrogen-carrying fuels for fuel cells, including diesel, methanol and chemical hydrides.

Efficiency

A fuel cell typically converts the chemical energy of its fuel into electricity with an efficiency of about 50%. (The rest of the energy is converted into heat.)

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If the fuel cell is used to power a vehicle, then it is also important to take losses due to production, transportation and storage into account. Fuel cell vehicles running on compressed hydrogen may have a power plant to wheel efficiency of 22% if the hydrogen is stored as high-pressure gas, and 17% if it is stored as a cryogenic liquid (efficiency of Hydrogen Fuel Cell, Diesel-SOFC-Hybrid and Battery Electric Vehicles, Ulf Bossel, European Fuel Cell Forum).

In "combined heat and power" applications, a fuel cell is placed in a location where heat is also needed. The fuel-to-electricity conversion efficiency need not be very high (typically 15-20%), because the heat is also being utilized. Some heat is lost with the exhaust gas just like in a normal furnace, so the combined heat and power efficiency is still lower than 100%, typically around 80%.

Economy

GM believes that fuel cell vehicles will be available at market prices around the end of this decade. The problem is the cost of the platinum catalyst, which was 1000 USD per installed kW electric power output in 2002 (http://www.fuelcellcontrol.com/evs19.html).

History

The principle of the fuel cell was discovered by Swiss scientist Christian Friedrich Schönbein in 1838 and published in the January 1839 edition of the "Philosophical Magazine" [1]. Based on this work, the first fuel cell was developed by Welsh scientist Sir William Grove. A sketch was published in 1843, but it wasn't until 1959 that British engineer Francis Thomas Bacon successfully developed a 5 kW stationary fuel cell. In 1959, a team led by Harry Ihrig built a 15 kW fuel cell tractor for Allis-Chalmers that was demonstrated across the US at state fairs. This system used potassium hydroxide as the electrolyte and compressed hydrogen and oxygen as the reactants. Later, in 1959, Bacon and his colleagues demonstrated a practical five-kilowatt unit capable of powering a welding machine, which led, in the 1960s to Bacon's patents being licensed by Pratt and Whitney from the U.S. where the concepts were used in the U.S. space program to supply electricity and drinking water (hydrogen and oxygen being readily available from the spacecraft tanks). Extremely expensive materials were used and the fuel cells required very pure hydrogen and oxygen. Early fuel cells tended to require inconveniently high operating temperatures that were a problem in many applications. However, fuel cells were seen to be desirable due to the large amounts of fuel available (hydrogen & oxygen).

Further technological advances in the 1980s and 1990s, like the use of Nafion as the membrane electrolyte, and reductions in the quantity of expensive platinum catalyst required, have made the prospect of fuel cells in consumer applications such as automobiles more or less realistic. (See Hydrogen car)

The fuel cell industry

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United Technologies (UTX) was the first company to manufacture fuel cells. In the 1960s the company provided NASA with fuel cells to generate electricity for the Apollo missions. UTX's UTC Power subsidiary [2] was the first company to manufacture and commercialize a large, stationary fuel cell system for use as a co-generation power plant in hospitals, universities, and large office buildings. UTC Power continues to market this fuel cell as the PureCell 200 [3], a 200 kW system. UTC Power continues to be the sole supplier of fuel cells to NASA for use in space vehicles, having supplied the Apollo missions and currently the space shuttle, and is developing fuel cells for automobiles, buses, and cell phone towers. UTC Power claims to be "the global leader in the development and production of fuel cell technology" for both transportation and on-site power markets. In the automotive fuel cell market, UTC Power demonstrated the first fuel cell capable of starting under freezing conditions with its proton exchange membrane (PEM) automotive fuel cell. Note: UTC Power also uses the UTC Fuel Cells [4] name when referring to fuel cell products.

<a href=United Technologies (UTX) was the first company to manufacture fuel cells. In the 1960s the company provided NASA with fuel cells to generate electricity for the Apollo missions . UTX's UTC Power subsidiary [2] was the first company to manufacture and commercialize a large, stationary fuel cell system for use as a co-generation power plant in hospitals, universities, and large office buildings . UTC Power continues to market this fuel cell as the PureCell 200 [3], a 200 kW system. UTC Power continues to be the sole supplier of fuel cells to NASA for use in space vehicles, having supplied the Apollo missions and currently the space shuttle , and is developing fuel cells for automobiles, buses, and cell phone towers. UTC Power claims to be "the global leader in the development and production of fuel cell technology" for both transportation and on-site power markets. In the automotive fuel cell market, UTC Power demonstrated the first fuel cell capable of starting under freezing conditions with its proton exchange membrane (PEM) automotive fuel cell. Note: UTC Power also uses the UTC Fuel Cells [4] name when referring to fuel cell products. A fuel cell powered vehicle designed by General Motors Ballard Power Systems is a major developer and manufacturer of the PEM fuel cells and claims to lead the world in automotive fuel cell technology. Ford Motor Company and DaimlerChrysler are major investors in Ballard. In 2003, most automobile companies were customers of Ballard, with only General Motors and Toyota pursuing internal development of fuel cells for automotive use which broke up in 2005; in 2004 Nissan and Honda started similar research programs. GM apparently now teams with DaimlerChrysler and BMW [5] . Perth in Western Australia is also participating in the trial with three fuel cell powered buses now operating between Perth and the port city of Fremantle . The trial is to be extended to other Australian cities over the next three years. In late 2004, Mechanical Technology Inc.' s subsidiary, MTI MicroFuel Cells debuted its first Direct Methanol Fuel Cell (DMFC )[6] for commercial use. MTI's Mobion™ cord- free rechargeable power pack technology consists of a fuel cell which runs on 100% (neat) Methanol. MTI's Mobion line is being released in industrial, consumer, and military markets as a low-cost replacement for lithium-ion batteries. Advantages and disadvantages Environmental effects " id="pdf-obj-3-32" src="pdf-obj-3-32.jpg">

A fuel cell powered vehicle designed by General Motors

Ballard Power Systems is a major developer and manufacturer of the PEM fuel cells and claims to lead the world in automotive fuel cell technology. Ford Motor Company and DaimlerChrysler are major investors in Ballard. In 2003, most automobile companies were customers of Ballard, with only General Motors and Toyota pursuing internal development of fuel cells for automotive use which broke up in 2005; in 2004 Nissan and Honda started similar research programs. GM apparently now teams with DaimlerChrysler and BMW [5].

Perth in Western Australia is also participating in the trial with three fuel cell powered buses now operating between Perth and the port city of Fremantle. The trial is to be extended to other Australian cities over the next three years.

In late 2004, Mechanical Technology Inc.'s subsidiary, MTI MicroFuel Cells debuted its first Direct Methanol Fuel Cell (DMFC)[6] for commercial use. MTI's Mobion™ cord- free rechargeable power pack technology consists of a fuel cell which runs on 100% (neat) Methanol. MTI's Mobion line is being released in industrial, consumer, and military markets as a low-cost replacement for lithium-ion batteries.

Advantages and disadvantages

Environmental effects

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A common misconception among the public is that elemental hydrogen is a source of energy. This is not the case, hydrogen is not a primary source of energy: it is only an energy storage medium, and must be manufactured using energy from other sources.

The physical laws relating to the conservation of energy unfortunately create a situation where the energy needed to create the fuel in the first place may reduce the ultimate energy efficiency of the system to below that of the most efficient gasoline internal- combustion engines; this is especially true if the hydrogen has to be compressed to high pressures or liquified, as it does in automobile applications (the electrolysis of water is itself a rather inefficient process, usually requiring at least 50 % more electricity than the energy stored in the produced hydrogen.). However, even the most efficient internal- combustion engines are not very efficient in absolute terms; furthermore, gasoline is not a primary energy source, because crude oil has to be treated in a refinery to obtain gasoline.

As an alternative to electrolysis, hydrogen can be generated from methane (the primary component of natural gas) with approximately 80% efficiency, or with other hydrocarbons to a varying degree of efficiency. The hydrocarbon-conversion method releases greenhouse gases, but, since the production is concentrated in one facility, and not distributed on every single vehicle or utility, it is possible to separate the gases and dispose of them properly, for example by injecting them in an oil or gas reservoir. A CO 2 injection project has been started by Norwegian company Statoil in the North Sea, at the Sleipner field. [7]

Other types of fuel cells do not face these problems, however. For example, biological fuel cells take glucose and methanol from food scraps and convert it into hydrogen and food for the bacteria.

However, another environmental problem faced by all types of hydrogen fuel cells has been pointed out in a paper published in Science magazine by a group of Caltech scientists. They note that if hydrogen fuel cell usage becomes widespread enough to replace gasoline internal-combustion engines, small amounts of hydrogen leaking from storage containers and pipelines will have a detrimental impact on the Earth's ozone layer. However, their findings remain controversial, and their assumptions regarding the amount of hydrogen leaked have been disputed by industry officials.

Finally, roughly 50% of all electricity produced in the United States comes from coal. The problem is that coal is a relatively dirty energy source. If electrolysis (a process that uses electricity) is used to create hydrogen using energy from power plants, it is essentially creating hydrogen fuel from coal. Though the fuel cell itself will only emit heat and water as waste, the problem of pollution is still present at power plants.

Fuel cell design issues

To make fuel cells economically competitive, there are many practical problems to be overcome as well. Water management remains a key problem in Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells or (PEMFCs) where the membrame must be hydrated, requiring

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water to be evaporated at precisely the same rate that it is produced. If water is evaporated too quickly, the membrane dries, resistance across it increases, and eventually it will crack, creating a gas "short circuit" where hydrogen and oxygen combine directly, generating heat that will damage the fuel cell. If the water is evaporated to slowly, the electrodes will flood, preventing the reactants from reaching the catalyst and stopping the reaction. Methods to dispose of the excess water are being developed by fuel cell companies.

At the same time many other variables must be juggled, including temperature throughout the cell (which changes and can sometimes destroy a cell through thermal loading), reactant and product levels at various cells. Materials must be chosen to do various tasks which none fill completely. Durability and lifetime of the cells can be serious issues for some cells, low power densities for others. Putting all of these factors together hasn't been accomplished decisively yet, and remains the challenge.

In vehicle usage, many problems are amplified. For instance, cars must be required to start in any weather conditions a person can reasonably expect to encounter: about 80% of the world's car park is legally subject to the requirement of being able to start from sub-zero temperatures. Fuel cells have no difficulty operating in the hottest locations, but the coldest do present a problem. Honda's FCX was the first fuel cell powered vehicle to do so, but temperatures below -20 degrees Celsius still prohibit the fuel cell stack from starting.

Fuel cell applications

Fuel cells are very useful as power sources in remote locations, such as spacecraft, remote weather stations, large parks, rural locations, and in certain military applications. A fuel cell system running on hydrogen can be compact, lightweight and has no major moving parts.

A near-term application is combined heat and power (CHP) for office buildings and factories. This type of system generates constant electric power (selling excess power back to the grid when it is not consumed), and at the same time produce hot air and water from the waste heat. Phosphoric-acid fuel cells (PAFC) comprise the largest segment of existing CHP products worldwide and can provide combined efficiencies close to 80% (45-50% electric + remainder as thermal). The largest manufacturer of PAFC fuel cells is UTC Power, a division of United Technologies Corporation. Molten-carbonate fuel cells have also been installed in these applications, and Solid-oxide fuel cell prototypes exist.

Because fuel cells have a high cost per kilowatt, and because their efficiency decreases with increasing power density, they are usually not considered for applications with high load variations. In particular, they are not suited for energy storage systems in small and medium scale. An electrolyzer and fuel cell would return less than 50 percent of the input energy (this is known as round-trip efficiency), while a much cheaper lead-acid battery might return about 90 percent.

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However, since fuel cell/electrolyzer systems do not store fuel, but rather rely on external storage units, they can be successfully applied in large-scale energy storage, rural areas being one example. In this case, batteries would have to be largely oversized to meet the storage demand, but fuel cells only need a larger storage unit (typically cheaper than an electrochemical device).

The use of fuel cells for cogeneration of electricity and hot water in households is a potential long-term application, with various pilot programs launched in 2005 across the industry.

Hydrogen vehicles and refuelling

The first hydrogen refuelling station was opened in Reykjavík, Iceland on April 2003. This station serves three buses built by DaimlerChrysler that are in service in the public transport net of Reykjavík. The station produces the hydrogen it needs by itself, with an electrolysing unit (produced by Norsk Hydro), and does not need refilling: all that enters is electricity and water. Shell is also a partner in the project. The station has no roof, in order to allow any leaked hydrogen to escape to the atmosphere.

There are numerous prototype or production cars and buses based on fuel cell technology being researched or manufactured. Research is ongoing at companies like BMW, Hyundai, and Nissan, among many others. However, a practical commercial automobile is not expected until at least 2010 according to the industry. There are, however, fuel cell- powered buses currently active or in production, such as a fleet of Thor buses with UTC Power fuel cells in California, operated by SunLine Transit Agency [8].

Currently, a team of college students called Energy-Quest is planning to take a hydrogen fuel cell powered boat around the world (as well as other projects using efficient or renewable fuels). Their venture is called the Triton.

Sodium boro hydride (NaBH 4 ) a chemical compound may hold future promise due to the ease at which hydrogen can be stored under normal atmospheric pressures in automobiles that have fuel cells.

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