You are on page 1of 4

1

SustainableEnergyProductionHowcanEngineersbringthisintoReality?
ByAdamChan
Today,itishardtoimagineaworldwithoutelectricityormotoredvehicles.Our
dependenceonthesehasbecomesothatwithoutit,wewouldbehelpless.But
ourmethodsofhowwegenerateelectricityandpowerforourcars,by
combustingfossilfuels,harborsdangeroussideeffectsthatessentiallykillthe
naturalenvironment.Fossilfuelsarealsonotarenewablesource,oncetheyare
burnttheycannotbereused,andonceeverythingisextractedfromtheearths
coretherearenomeansofreplenishingthem(Rifkin,2002).Basically,we
generatepowerfromadiminishingsourcethatcausesenvironmentaldamage.It
isplaintoseethatitisnecessarytosearchforothermeansofpower,of
sustainableenergyproduction,whichEnergexexplainsasenergyproduction
thatwillnotdepleteenergyresources(2009),withoutdetrimentaleffectson
ourenvironment.Apopularsolutionisthehydrogeneconomy,wherebyallof
ourpowerwouldbederivedfromhydrogengas.Hydrogengascanbe
engineeredinsuchawaythatitsmainbyproductissimplywater(Nowakowski
etal,2010).Whilstalsonotdamagingourplanet,hydrogendoesnotdiminish,
andsoisaformofsustainableenergyproduction.Championsforthisalternative
hydrogeneconomyattestthatwhilststoppingthedestructionofournatural
environment,itmayalsorestoresomepeaceintheworldas:
Hydrogenhasthepotentialtoendtheworld'srelianceonimportedoilandhelp
diffusethedangerousgeopoliticalgamebeingplayedoutbetweenMuslim
militantsandWesternnations(Rifkin,2002)
WhichassumesthatthelatestconflictsareduetotheWesternnationstryingto
scampertogainaccesstooilreservesinthepredominantlyIslamicMiddleEast.
SoifapossiblesolutiontotheearthstroublesliesinaHydrogeneconomy,the
questionstillremains,throughwhichprocessthiscanbeachieved?
ThroughChemicalEngineeringitispossibletocapitaliseonthehydrogen
economybydevelopingasustainableenergyproduction.Chemicalengineering
isthebranchofengineeringconcernedwiththedesign,construction,and
operationofmachinesandplantsthatperformchemicalreactionstosolve
practicalproblemsormakeusefulproducts(Helmenstine,2009).Oneofthe
biggestproblemswithburningoffossilfuelsisthebyproduct,whichcauses
majorenvironmentaldamage.Whenusinghydrogengasasafuelthemain
chemicalproductiswater,whicheveryoneshouldknowisnotdetrimentaltothe
environment(Nowakowskietal,2010).Bycreatingchemicalreactionswiththe
Hydrogengas,chemicalengineerscansolvetheseenvironmentalproblemsand
designaproductthatwillbebeneficialtosociety.Theydothisusinganumberof
techniques,butthemostsimpleisthroughtheelectrolysisofwater.
Byrunninganelectriccurrentthroughwater,H20,itispossibletobreakdown
thewaterintohydrogengas,H2andoxygengas,O2(Nowakowskietal,2010).It
ispossibletoharnessthehydrogengasanduseitinahydrogenfuelcellthathas
anelectrolytesandwichedbetweenapositivecathodeandanegativeanode.In
thecathodethehydrogenisreducedto,withtheuseofanelectricmotor,H+ions
andelectrons.TheH+ionsmovethroughelectrolyte,whilsttheelectronsrun
2
throughtheelectricmotor,andtheyarereunitedintheanode,wheretheyreact
withoxygen(mostlyfromtheair)tocreatewater(Nowakowskietal,2010).This
isshownpictoriallywithstoichiometricequationsinNowakowskietal.:

Obviously,whenconsideringthisitisnaturaltoaskhowmuchhydrogengasone
wouldneedtopowersuchacell.Chemicalengineersneedtoassesshowmany
moleswillberequiredtogenerateacertainamountofelectricity.Thiscanbe
donebydividingthemassbythemolecularweight.Withagasitisoftenhardto
determinethemassthroughweighingit,soitisoftencalculatedbyascertaining
theproductofitsdensityandvolume(Nowakowskietal,2010).Itismost
importanttofindthemassandhencethenumberofmoles,becausethiswill
allowtheengineertodiscoverhowmuchenergywillbeproduced.
Therelationshipbetweenenergyandmasscanbeseenintheanodes
stoichiometricequation:2H24H++4e.Here,thereare4molesofelectrons
produced.Now,usingfundamentalchemistryequationswecanfindthetotal
energygeneratedbythecell.Thisisdonebyfindingthenumberofelectronsin
thecell,whichcanbeevaluatedbymultiplyingthenumberofmoleswiththe
constantAvogadrosnumber(Nowakowskietal,2010).Thisresultcanthenbe
multipliedbytheknownvalueofthechargeofoneelectrontodiscoverthe
chargeoftheelectronsinthecell,andthenfinally,thiscanbemultipliedbya
givenopencircuitvoltagetoestablishtheelectricalenergyofthesystem
(Nowakowskietal,2010).Now,thattheelectricalenergyisknown,engineers
cancalculatehowefficientsuchacellwouldbebyconsideringenergybalance.
Basically,theelectricalenergyproducedwillequalthemechanicalenergyofthe
itemthatisbeingpoweredandotherenergylossesduetoheat,sound,friction
etc.(Nowakowskietal,2010).
Forthisfuelcellthatwouldbepoweringacar,themechanicalenergycanbe
evaluatedbyfindingtheproductoftheweightofthecar,itsmassmultipliedby
ENGG 1800 Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering 2010

7

Please note, plagiarism will be dealt with severely, and may result in you losing up to 100 of the marks
for this component, or being recommended to fail the course. The University of Sydney takes plagiarism
very seriously.

4.0 Theory and background
4.1 Basic Principles of a Hydrogen Fuel Cell
The basic operation of a hydrogen fuel cell involves the recombining of oxygen and hydrogen gases to
water with the generation of an electrical current. This electrical current can then be used to power
electrical units.

A fuel cell consists of three key parts (see Figure 1):
(i) Cathode: This is the positive terminal or the electrode that accepts electrons. Reactions that
occur here will accept electrons.
(ii) Anode: This is the negative terminal that repels electrons. The reaction in this electrode
generates electrons.
(iii) Electrolyte: This allows ions to flow from either electrodes.

Generation of electricity requires the injection of hydrogen in the anode and oxygen or air in cathode
section of the fuel cell. !n the anode the hydrogen gas (H
2
) is ionised to form hydrogen ions (H
+
) and
electrons (e
-
). The electrolyte facilitates the flow of the hydrogen ion from the anode to the cathode while
the electrons are transmitted through the electrical circuit. A unique electrolyte called a proton exchange
membrane, a polymer containing mobile H
+
ions, is used in fuel cells to allow hydrogen ions to pass from
the anode to the cathode. !n the cathode, oxygen reacts with H
+
and the electrons to form water.

























Figure 1. Schematic diagram of a fuel cell (Larminie and Dicks, 2003).

Anode: 2H
2
!4H
+
+ 4e
-

Cathode: O
2
+ 4H
+
+ 4e
-
! 2H
2
O
Electric
motor
Hydrogen fuel
H+ ions through electrolyte
Oxygen, usually from air
3
theaccelerationduetogravity,thedistancethecartraveled,andagivenfriction
coefficient(Nowakowskietal,2010).Now,theefficiencyofthecellcanbe
determinedbydividingthismechanicalenergybytheelectricalenergyand
multiplyingby100togetapercentage.Thisisimportantbecauseitwillallow
theengineertoseewhetherornotitisworthwhiletousehydrogenasapower
source.
Withagoodworkingknowledgeofbasicchemistryprinciples,achemical
engineercandecidewhetherornotusinghydrogengasforenergyproductionis
asuitablesubstituteforthemethodscurrentlyinusetoday.Ifanengineer
decidesthatitsnot,thentheycouldbeaffordedtheopportunityasaproject
managertoleadateamintodiscoveringamoreviablemeansofsustainable
energyproduction.





















4
ReferenceList:
Energex(2009)Glossary.RetrievedonMay3,from
http://www.energex.com.au/switched_on/glossary.html

Helmenstine,A.(2009)ChemistryGlossaryDefinitionofChemicalEngineering.
RetrievedonMay3,from
http://chemistry.about.com/od/chemistryglossary/a/chemengdef.htm

Nowakowski,J.,G.Yap,M.Valix(2010).EngineeringEnergy:TheHydrogen
FuelledCar.ENGG1800IntroductiontoEngineeringDisciplinesNotes,February
2010,TheUniversityofSydney.

Rifkin,J.(2002)TheHydrogenEconomy.RetrievedonMay3,from
http://www.foet.org/books/hydrogeneconomy.html