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Sources of Energy. A favorite form of energy is electricity Where does electricity come from? Even though electricity is a very useful form of energy, there are very few direct sources of electrical energy on earth. (One example is a lightning storm.)

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sources of energy
Sources of Energy
  • A favorite form of energy is electricity
  • Where does electricity come from?
  • Even though electricity is a very useful form of energy, there are very few direct sources of electrical energy on earth. (One example is a lightning storm.)
  • Electricity is really a secondary energy source, which we get by converting another type of energy into it.
  • The original source of energy can be
    • Nuclear
    • Wind
    • Sun
    • Hydrodynamic
    • Chemical energy
current energy system
Current Energy System
  • What’s wrong with our current energy system?
  • The current world energy consumption is 13 TW, or 13 trillion watts.
    • This number is HUGE. 3000 Niagara Falls worth of energy.
  • Most (85%) of that energy is converted from chemical energy.
  • Most of the chemical energy is coming from the burning of fossil fuels: oil, gas, and coal.
  • Burning fossil fuels generates carbon dioxide, CO2.
  • Let’s examine a gallon of gasoline.
    • Each gallon of gasoline generates over 1000 gallons of CO2 gas at atmospheric pressure. That’s more than 17 pounds of CO2.
    • So every 100 gallons burned creates nearly TON (2000 lbs) of CO2.
carbon dioxide emissions
Carbon Dioxide Emissions
  • Why is CO2 a problem?
  • All of the fossil fuels that we are burning lead directly to carbon dioxide.
  • Most of this carbon dioxide is being poured directly into the atmosphere, where it adds to the existing CO2 levels.
  • The CO2 concentrations in the earth’s atmosphere have already risen by over 25% in the past century.
  • CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Increasing its concentration in the earth’s atmosphere leads to a warming of the earth.
  • The effect is already being observed, in higher air temperatures, receding glaciers, increase in wildfires, rising sea levels…
sustainable and renewable energy
Sustainable and Renewable Energy
  • Solutions
  • To ward off significant climate change, changes will need to be made in how we get our energy.
  • Interest in sustainable, renewable, and clean sources of energy.
  • Sustainable energy: one that is not substantially depleted by continued use, does not cause significant pollutant emissions or other environmental problems, doesn’t cause substantial health hazards or social injustices (from Boyle)
  • Renewable energy: energy obtained from the continuous or repetitive currents of energy recurring in the natural environment (Twidell and Weir, 1986)
  • energy flows which are replenished at the same rate as they are “used” (Sorensen, 2000)
  • energy generated from natural resources (Wikipedia)
sustainable energy
Sustainable Energy
  • Some ideas that are being pursued include:
    • Wind
    • Solar cells
    • Solar thermal
    • Biofuels
    • Energy from the Ocean in the form of waves or tides
    • Geothermal energy (e.g. Iceland)
    • Clean fuels
        • Some forms of fuel don’t produce as much CO2. The “gold standard” in a clean fuel is hydrogen (H2). When hydrogen is burned, it produces no CO2 at all, only water. One of the ways of extracting this chemical energy from hydrogen is to react it with oxygen in a fuel cell.
transportable energy
Transportable Energy
  • Transportable energy
  • In addition to solutions like solar cells, or wind turbines, we need a way to store energy, and to move it around with us.
  • We need portability for many applications (e.g. driving a car)
  • We also need energy on demand (so we can have it even in the dark).
  • That’s why fuels are so desirable—they are a transportable, storable form of energy.
  • One way to store energy is in the form of hydrogen. Remember that hydrogen is considered the cleanest of the “clean” fuels because when it reacts with oxygen, the only product formed is water.
fuel cells
Fuel Cells
  • Getting electrical energy from chemical energy
  • We could just put hydrogen and oxygen together in a reactor, effectively burning the hydrogen, to get energy out.
  • A more efficient way of doing this is to use a fuel cell.
  • A fuel cell directly converts chemical energy (that from reacting H2 with O2) into electrical energy.
  • It does this by only letting the oxygen contact the hydrogen in a very controlled fashion.
  • A fuel cell is designed like a sandwich
  • Let’s delve further into fuel cells

hydrogen flame

fuel cells1
Fuel Cells
  • Fuel cells are devices that convert chemical energy into electrical energy
  • Efficiencies are potentially higher than if using the fuels in an engine
  • Current efficiencies are 40-60%
  • Fuel cells are similar to batteries, but with replenishable materials (fuel)
  • Under consideration for both large scale power generation and small scale portable applications (e.g. laptop and cell phone power)

Combustion Engine

Fuel cell


Converts fuel into electrical energy

Stores energy through an electrochemical system


Unlike a combustion engine, a fuel cell directly converts chemical energy into electrical, without going via heat and mechanical energy

Unlike a battery, a fuel cell is not consumed when it produces electricity


pros and cons of fuel cells
Pros and Cons of Fuel Cells


  • Clean and green
  • Higher potential efficiencies
  • No moving parts
  • Lower particulate emissions
  • Silent, mechanically robust
  • Scaleable, transportable


  • Expensive
  • Fuel availability
  • Power/energy density issues (for portable applications)
fuel cell basics what is a fuel cell
Fuel Cell Basics: What is a Fuel Cell?

Fuel cell





H2+½ O2 H2O

  • Electrochemical energy conversion device
    • directly converts chemical energy to electrical energy
    • fuel can be H2 or hydrocarbon (e.g. methanol)
  • The “combustion” reaction is split into two electrochemical half reactions
fuel cells2
Fuel Cells
  • Some fuel cell reactions:
  • These are basically combustion reactions.
  • As with batteries, the idea is to harness the electrons from the “redox” reaction to produce electrical energy.
  • Fuel cells contain (1) a thin membrane that
  • conducts ions, (2) an anode and (3) a cathode
  • Both the anode and the cathode need to be
  • catalytically active or contain added catalyst
  • in order to break up the H2 (or hydrocarbon)
  • and O2.


H2+½ O2 H2O

CH3OH + (3/2)O2 → CO2 + 2H2O


Figure from

F. Prinz

oxidation and reduction reactions
Oxidation and Reduction Reactions
  • We are interested in a class of reactions that involve electron transfer at the atomic scale. These are called “Redox” reactions
  • The overall chemical reaction is broken up into two electrochemical half reactions
    • Oxidation: Electrons are lost from a species
    • Reduction: Electrons are gained by a species

H22 H+ + 2 e-


Zn Zn2+ + 2 e-

½ O2 + 2 H+ + 2 e-H2O


2 e- + Cu2+Cu

oxidation and reduction reactions1
Oxidation and Reduction Reactions
  • In an electrochemical device (such as a fuel cell or battery), the electrochemical half reactions take place at electrodes.
  • The electrode is conductive, i.e. it needs to conduct charge.
    • Anode: the electrode where oxidation takes place
    • Cathode: the electrode where reduction takes place
  • Whether the anode and cathode are positively or negatively charged depends on the type of device.
  • For a galvanic cell (produces electricity), the anode is negative
  • For an electrolytic cell (consumes electricity), the anode is positive
schematic of a fuel cell









Schematic of a Fuel Cell

Fuel in

Air in

Flow structure






  • The steps in the fuel cell process are:
  • Deliver reactant (transport)
  • Electrochemical reaction at both anode and cathode (requires catalyst too)
  • Movement of ions through the electrolyte; movement of electrons through the external circuit
  • Remove product (transport)
fuel cells3


E0 = 0 (SHE)

E0 = 1.229 V


E0 = 1.229 V


Fuel Cells

A fuel cell is just a battery with replenishable electrode materials

Compare with a battery (Daniel Cell)


Properties desired for membrane electrolyte:

• High ionic conductivity (minimizes resistive losses)

• Low electronic conductivity (minimizes current losses)

• Chemical stability in both oxidizing (anode) and reducing (cathode) environments)

• Low fuel crossover

• Mechanical strength and manufacturability

Categories: liquid, solid, polymeric

the proton exchange membrane pemfc
The Proton Exchange Membrane (PEMFC)
  • The membrane must conduct protons (hydrogen ions, H+) but not electrons (otherwise would short circuit)
  • Most common membrane for PEM fuel cells is Nafion (Dupont), a polytetrafluoroethylene (Teflon) with sulfonic acid (SO3-H+) functional groups
  • Fixed charge sites (SO3-) act as temporary centers where the moving ions can be accepted or released. H+ ions move by detaching from from sulfonic acid sites and forming hydronium complexes (H3O+) with water
  • Nafion relies on liquid water humidification of the membrane to transport protons
  • Therefore, water management (humidification) systems are necessary.
  • Temperatures must be kept below 80-90oC so won’t dry out.


phosphoric acid fuel cell pafc
Phosphoric acid fuel cell (PAFC)
  • First commercial fuel cell type
  • Liquid H3PO4 electrolyte in SiC matrix
  • Operated at 150-200oC; expelled water used as steam for space and water heating
  • Used for stationary applications with a combined heat and power efficiency of about 80%; electrical power efficiency alone is ~40%
  • PAFC’s dominate the on-site stationary fuel cell market; 200 kW and 300 kW plants
the solid oxide fuel cell sofc


The Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC)


  • Advantages
  • Solid electrolyte
  • Doesn’t need humidification
  • Fuel flexibility (H2 and simple hydrocarbon)
  • Non-precious metal catalyst (at high T, perovskites are used as catalyst )
  • Relatively high power density





H2+O2- H2O + 2e-

Solid ceramic





Porous mixed-



½ O2 + 2e- O2-


YSZ (yttria-stabilized zirconia) cubic fluorite structure


• Y3+ substitutes for Zr4+ ions

• Creates oxygen vacancies!

• For every 2 Y3+ ions substituting for Zr4+ ions there is a O2- vacancy created (charge neutrality)

Oxygen and vacancy exchange

  • Membrane conductivity is proportional to the concentration of O2- vacancies
  • But too much Y doping leads to vacancy-vacancy interactions which decreases mobility
  • Maximum conductivity occurs at about 8% doping
current density vs voltage polarization curve
Current Density vs Voltage: Polarization Curve

The losses in voltage from the ideal output voltage are referred to as ‘‘polarizations’’

Ideal output voltage



Concentration Losses



Energy losses associated with the electrode reactions

(Surface reaction kinetics)

Energy losses associated with mass transport limitations

(reactants and/or products

Energy losses from electronic impedances (electrodes, contacts, and current collectors) and ionic impedances (from electrolyte)

fuel cells4
Fuel Cells

Honda FCX Clarity zero-emissions fuel cell vehicle (shown with Jamie Lee Curtis)

Vehicle uses a PEM fuel cell stack

Will these compete with electric cars?