How do you consume energy in a way that’s more environmentally-friendly? If you were to ask the average man (or woman!) on the street, they’d probably bring up renewable energy, such as wind, solar, or geothermal energy.
Now, these DO produce less greenhouse gas emissions than traditional sources of energy, but unfortunately, they still cause pollution and environmental damage. Fuel cells, on the other hand, are totally clean – making them a vastly superior way of powering the world. In this blog post, we discuss how fuel cells work, and how countries such as China are championing the race to make hydrogen fuel cells a reality. Read on to find out more!
What Are Fuel Cells?
Simply put, fuel cells are cells that use the chemical energy of a certain reactant to produce electricity in a clean and efficient manner. You may think of these as batteries that don’t require any charging.
The most common type of fuel cells are hydrogen cells. These are highly versatile and can produce electricity for systems that are as large as a utility power station or as small as a personal computer. Today, fuel cells are most commonly used to power cars.
From an environmental standpoint, fuel cells are definitely advantageous over other sources of energy. Hydrogen fuel cells emit only water, and they don’t generate any carbon dioxide or air pollutants that harm our environment.
Wondering how fuel cells work? To break it down, these cells consist of two electrodes that are in contact with an electrolyte layer. When a gaseous fuel (such as hydrogen) is fed to the negative electrode and oxygen is ged to the positive electrode, this results in electrochemical reactions taking place. These reactions, in turn, create an electric current.
Fun fact: NASA has been using liquid hydrogen to propel their space shuttles and rockets into orbit ever since the 1970s! They also use hydrogen cells to power the electrical systems in their shuttles, and the crew drinks the water that’s produced as a byproduct.
Challenges Associated With Using Fuel Cells
While fuel cells bring a ton of benefits to the table, there are obstacles that prevent the global market from using fuel cells on a widespread basis.
One of the biggest challenges of utilizing fuel cells revolves around the fact that fuel cells are expensive to create. That said, researchers and manufacturers are exploring a number of solutions that may help bring down the cost of these cells, including streamlining manufacturing processes and minimizing temperature constraints.
According to the University of California’s National Fuel Cell Research Centre, fuel cells will be able to better compete with traditional power generation technology when they hit an installed cost of $1,500 or less per kilowatt.
Next, there’s also the issue of safety. When it comes to using hydrogen cells to power cars, for instance, a key concern is that hydrogen in highly flammable and hard to contain. Bearing this in mind, if a car that’s fitted with hydrogen fuel cells breaks down or overheats, it may have an increased likelihood to blow up or catch fire.
What’s the fix? As of now, cars with fuel cells are outfitted with larger radiators to help with cooling. Meanwhile, scientists are researching and developing “high-temperature” fuel cells, and other special systems to enhance the endurance of fuel cells.
The Race To Make Hydrogen Fuel Cells A Reality
Several countries have put into place policies and guidelines that encourage the usage of hydrogen fuel cells, including China, Korea, and Japan.
For instance, China’s 2019 Government Work Report contained a proposal to promote the development and construction of fueling stations for hydrogen fuel cell cars, and China’s government is targeting to have 1 million fuel cell vehicles on its roads by 2030.
China aside, Korea is equally invested in popularizing hydrogen fuel cells. At the start of 2019, the Korean government announced a plan to foster the hydrogen economy by supporting industries such as hydrogen-powered cars and fuel cells. All in all, Korea intends to produce 6.2 million hydrogen-powered vehicles and build 1,200 hydrogen-charging stations.
Last but not least, Japan is aiming to get 40,000 fuel-cell vehicles on the road by 2020. The country is currently working on deregulating the rules that it currently imposes on hydrogen filling stations, in the hopes that it can increase the number of refuelling stations to boost sales of hydrogen cars.
Want To Do Your Part To Save The Environment?
Unfortunately, cars powered by fuel cells aren’t available commercially in Singapore as of yet.
Still, want to make an effort to go green? There are plenty of ways in which you can adopt an environmentally-friendly lifestyle, such as purchasing your electricity from a retailer that offers green electricity plans.
Here at iSwitch, we offer electricity that is 100% carbon neutral and has zero environmental impact. Understand more about our Green Plans for both residential and commercial properties today!
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