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The Fuel Cell

The fuel cell is actually quite an old technology having been invented by the 1
British scientist William Grove in 1843. In this apparatus, electrical power is produced 2
in a simple yet intriguing way. As can be seen from the diagram, there are two 3
electrodes, the anode and the cathode, and in the middle of both there is a membrane 4
ion conductor or electrolyte. Hydrogen gas is fed continuously over the anode while 5
oxygen from the air passes over the cathode.The electrolyte is a partition which 6
ensures that the two gases do not come into direct Contact with each other. Through 7
the chemical process in the fuel cell, hydrogen splits into hydrogen ions and 8
electrons.The electrons then pass through an external circuit to the cathode depicted by 9
this glowing bulb. Electrical current is produced in this Way. 10

The hydrogen ions meanwhile pass through the membrane.They and the 11
electrons then react with oxygen at the cathode to produce water or steam.Thus heat is 12
also produced, and this too can be utilized. 13

The electricity produced is direct current, which can be converted into 14


alternating current if required. In order to create large Volumes of power, fuel cells are 15
connected in series to form a stack. 16

The beauty of the fuel cell is that the only waste product is Water, although it 17
should be stressed that the waste depends on how hydrogen is obtained to begin With. 18
If it is derived from sources such as natural gas, CO2 will also be produced. 19

Fuel cells can primarily be used in remote areas where there is no connection to 20
the grid. But developments in this technology could mean that heat and electrical 21
power from fuel cells will also be harnessed in the future in cities, in decentralized 22
energy supply systems for homes, offices and factories. We could even have them in 23
our cellars. 24

So is this the key to a Vision of clean, cheap, plentiful energy supply? Does it 25
spell the end for the power plant as we know it? This is unlikely as the Volumes of 26
power needed cannot be generated by the fuel cell alone. But there will be changes, 27
and in twenty to thirty years’ time fuel cells could be common in energy supply as well 28
as in vehicles. 29