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An image of a thermal power plant

Hydrogen Fuel Cells: Powering the Future

One of the growing concerns of transport systems is the ebbing availability of crude oil. Everything from cars to airplanes depends on the crude oil market. Even thermal power stations, which produce nearly 50% of the electricity used by the world, are taking a fall as natural resources are depleting.

Almost all major cities in the world face pollution due to the emissions of engines that run on petroleum. The emissions have created a significant carbon footprint in the world.Nevertheless, the scenario is such that it has become hard to imagine a world without crude oil. What will happen to all the transport? How will we commute every day? How can we produce power without coal?

From solar energy to biofuel, scientists around the world have come up with different solutions to this problem. One unique solution to replace petrol and diesel is to harness the energy produced by hydrogen by means of a fuel cell.

 

WHAT IS A FUEL CELL?

 

Invented in the mid 19th century, a fuel cell is one which converts chemical energy into electrical energy by means of an electrochemical reaction. The fuel cell has two electrodes, an electrolyte, and a catalyst to speed up the reaction. In a hydrogen fuel cell, hydrogen reacts with oxygen and the energy released during the reaction is harnessed.

As long as hydrogen and oxygen are supplied, a fuel cell can produce electricity continuously. The reaction produces only water, heat, and electricity – with close to zero pollution.

 

WILL THEY POWER THE FUTURE?

 

As of now, fuel cells are being used as stationary units to power in many buildings around the world. Researchers around the world strive to make these fuel cells more compact so that they can be used in cars. Companies like Toyota and German manufacturers, Mercedes Benz, have unveiled their concepts of hydrogen-powered cars. Studies show that using fuel cells can cut down emissions by almost 30-40% at the least.

 

An image of Volkswagen's hydrogen fuel car
Volkswagen’s hydrogen fuel car

 

Though the fuel cells remain to be a clean and efficient source of energy, they are just as much dangerous. Hydrogen is highly flammable and the hydrogen used in fuel cells are highly pressurized. This would mean that there are chances of the fuel exploding and such an explosion could easily destroy a couple of blocks within the radius. Furthermore, hydrogen fuel cells are not exactly a common man’s fuel yet since they are very expensive. Though scientists are working hard to reduce the costs, it is not likely that the conventional cars would be replaced by hydrogen celled cars anytime soon.