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The Basics of Hydrogen Fuel Cells

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hydrogen fuel cell
hydrogen fuel cell
Definition of hydrogen fuel cell

A fuel cell is simply a device for converting the chemical energy of a fuel to electricity.
A hydrogen fuel cell basically utilizes a reaction of hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, water and heat. A more detailed defination is; an electrochemical cell which uses the electrochemical reaction of hydrogen and oxygen or another oxidizing agent to produce water, heat and electricity.

This reaction produces green by-products; water and clean electricity. It is viewed by experts as the future of energy. It has numerous applications, from electric vehicles to household electricity. Like a battery, it produces on demand electricity.

Working principle of hydrogen fuel cell

hydrogen fuel cell
The Basics of Hydrogen Fuel Cell

As seen in the animation, hydrogen gas comes into the fuel cell from one end, then broken down by a catalyst into a proton(positive hydrogen ion) and an electron. The electron moves to power the load ans the proton is movea to the cathode through the exchange membrane. The used electrons return and are combined with protons and oxygen to produce water. The water leaves from the other side.

Constraints to its adoption

1. The cost of producing hydrogen is currently high. It requires energy to remove hydrogen from molecules like water and ammonia. This makes the whole process not entirely green. Fossil energy is used and it pollutes the environment.

2. The net yield of electricity is low. This is primarily caused by impurities and temperature.

3. Its efficiency is still to poor to be scalable.

Future prospects of hydrogen fuel cell

If all the current constraints of this technology are solved, the effect would be immense.

1. Cars wouldn’t need to be charged at charging stations. The will need only a refill of hydrogen gas, similar to the convectional petrol refill.

2. In demand electricity can be supplied to buildings. Coupled with other renewables, fossil energy would be totally abandoned.

Advantages of hydrogen fuel cells

  • By converting chemical potential energy directly into electrical energy, fuel cells avoid the “thermal bottleneck” (a consequence of the 2nd law of thermodynamics) and are thus inherently more efficient than combustion engines, which must first convert chemical potential energy into heat, and then mechanical work.
  • Direct emissions from a fuel cell vehicle are just water and a little heat. This is a huge improvement over the internal combustion engine’s litany of greenhouse gases.
  • Fuel cells have no moving parts. They are thus much more reliable than traditional engines.
  • Hydrogen can be produced in an environmentally friendly manner, while oil extraction and refining is very damaging.


The development of hydrogen fuel cells to the required efficiency would ensure that greenhouse gases emissions are minimal. This would decelerate the rate of global warming, reducing climate change and finally, solve the energy crisis to an extent.

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