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Joe Torra, Larry Gilligan, John Gilles RMHS, 01867. Introduction to Hydrogen Fuel Cells. Results

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Introduction to Hydrogen Fuel Cells

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Joe Torra, Larry Gilligan, John Gilles

RMHS, 01867

Introduction to Hydrogen Fuel Cells


Hydrogen is a plausible source of energy for the future. It is a clean source of energy and by implementing it into our society we could cut on a great deal of pollution and also create new jobs for our economy. However, there are some major drawbacks. Hydrogen, as an element, has the lowest density of all elements. Hydrogen fuel tanks would be three times the size of a gasoline fuel tank, and would have to be insulated. This presents a whole new cost involved with using hydrogen as a fuel source. Hydrogen is also extremely combustible. Gasoline is also very combustible, so it would not be very different from our current energy situation. With proper safety procedures, we could insure that accidents involving hydrogen would stay very infrequent. Hydrogen fuel cells have no chance without widespread government support as well as support from the general public. This is due to the large costs of the operation.



Hydrogen fuel cells are more than likely not going to show up anytime soon. This is because our society would have to be completely retrained how to handle a fuel source. From fuel stations to the everyday driver, our current system would have to be completely overhauled. Because of our political situation nowadays it would be difficult to break out connections with fossil fuels. However, we cannot continue solely on fossil fuels, because they are limited. The most useful application of hydrogen fuel cells we could hope for is automobiles. However, for this to happen we have to install thousands of hydrogen dedicated stations.

Regular engines only convert roughly 40% of their maximum energy output. Hydrogen fuel engines convert 60-80%. This comparison makes it seem obvious that we should all begin to seriously consider Hydrogen as our main source of energy. The cost and effort of changing to hydrogen engines overpowers that decision. This narrows the problem to reducing the cost and increasing the durability of the engines. Hydrogen fuel cells have to compete in a low cost high volume market. The argument thus rests on our ability to not even make hydrogen fuel engines, but to make the public establish the need to put this fuel source into action.

The search for a renewable energy source is a constant effort. Fossil fuels are highly productive but have many setbacks. Such as they are un-renewable and create large amounts of pollution. There are many other options for fuel, however, many of them are highly inefficient. Some of these other sources of fuel are oil, gas, coal, hydroelectric, solar, wind, and nuclear power.

The reason that it is important to focus on our renewable energy source is because we are going to have to rely on them one day. Hydrogen fuel cells are made up of electrolytes surrounded by electrodes. There are bipolar plates used to separate these items and produce/channel the gases used as fuel. This causes a transfer of electricity and the flow of this electricity is where the energy can be harnessed. Today, Hydrogen fuel cells are hopefully going to be what replaces the petroleum we use. Petroleum is something that we use in our transportation vehicles.


This is what a Hydrogen Fuel Cell vehicle would look like. The engine would be able to run next to silent due to the power being dependent on electricity.

The Materials and Methods Involved

The Hydrogen fuel cells act similarly to batteries. There are 2 electrodes (an anode and a cathode), that are separated by a membrane. The hydrogen gas gets converted into negatively charged electrons and positively charged ions. This flow of particles is what produces the usable energy. There is movement through the electrolyte membrane to the cathode electrode where they combine with oxygen, producing water. To put into simpler words, The hydrogen cells work like a battery except they never run out. Hydrogen fuel cell are an effective method of energy because they simply produce water and potentially usable heat. An engine running on hydrogen fuel cells only outputs steam. The setback involved with hydrogen fuel cells is the price involved in producing them. However, this aspect is balanced out with the fact that over time, this price would be reduced because of the common application of the engine.

There are a variety of ways to extract hydrogen. Industrial hydrogen comes from fossil fuels, methane, and even such things as rotting vegetables. Although using water is easier, there is still very practical use to recycle compost. Extracting hydrogen can also be a dangerous process. Hydrogen is a very volatile, explosive substance. Hydrogen can be stored in pressurized tanks or liquefied, therefore, it could be delivered and stored in the same manner as fossil fuels.

Fuel Cell Type Operating Range

Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) Alkaline Fuel Cell (AFC) Phosphoric Acid (PAFC) Molten Carbonate (MCFC) Solid Oxide (SOFC)

This chart shows us how our country presently gets our power. We hope to see the “other” and Hydroelectric portions grow in the near future.

List of Picture Sources:


50 to 100 C°, 'lower temps' 50 to 200 C°, 'lower temps' around 220 C°, 'middle-temps' around 650 C°, 'higher temps' around 500 - 1000 C°, 'higher temps'