Skip to content

Fuel Cells as an Alternative

March 23, 2013

I often take strident exception to the “green energy” initiatives and spending pursued by our federal and state governments here in the USA. Often our tax dollars are being wasted lining the pockets of wind turbine and solar panel snake-oil salesmen, for the implementation of systems that cannot improve our energy situation and cannot be expected to meet the realistic demand for the consistent, dense, and reliable energy required to maintain our economy and society. As I have indicated in other articles, other than the damage to the economy of the waste itself, the real problem with mandating and subsidizing non-viable energy technology projects is that this distracts us and diverts resources from other efforts to improve our energy production strategy. Unfortunately, some of the arguments used to justify the mandates and subsidies are more political and emotional than logical.

In contrast, however, I am thus far impressed with the activity devoted to fuel cell development I have seen, because the resources being expended appear to be generally devoted to research in an effort to improve and develop the technology; or to implementation of the technology for certain limited and specific applications where it is effective. Perhaps I do not have the whole picture; but what I do NOT see is a widespread effort to line the pockets of developers with public subsidies for large scale electrical production, which the technology is not ready to support; or for government regulatory mandates for fuel cell vehicles. Much of the tax dollar support seems to be devoted to true R&D (as it should be); and the development of commercial applications is proceeding slowly and surely within the private sector (as it should).

Fuel Cell Basics:

For a simple explanation of fuel cell basics, one can refer to information provided by the Smithsonian Institution.

A fuel cell is a device that generates electricity by a chemical reaction but, unlike a battery, uses an external supply of chemical fuel. A single fuel cell generates a small amount of electricity, but many cells are generally arranged in parallel or series (or both) to boost current and voltage output. Fuel cells produce direct current (DC), which can then be converted to alternating current (AC) by an inverter depending on the needs of the application.

There are many types of fuel cells, but they operate with similar basic elements; a cathode, an anode, and a separating electrolyte layer that allows charged particles (ions) to pass but prevents negatively charge electrons to pass. A simple Hydrogen fuel cell diagram in shown in the picture below:


At this time, fuel cell technology is still too expensive and not efficient enough to be used on a large scale basis, and is limited to specific applications. However, a significant amount of research and development activity is on-going, and much of it right here in the USA, including my home state of Ohio.

Fuel Cell Automobiles:

As the government tries (vainly) to subsidize battery powered electric cars and rechargeable battery manufacturing, the auto industry is already examining the fuel cell alternatives that may be more effective, on their own. It is my understanding that Toyota, Hyundai, Daimler and Honda have all announced plans to build vehicles driven by Hydrogen fuel cells that have the potential for multiple advantages:
• Greater travelling range than battery-powered vehicles.
• Readily used in large vehicles like trucks and SUVs.
• Much shorter refueling times.
• Avoidance of the high purchase cost of the lithium-ion batteries.

Effective Future Energy Strategy:

There is no doubt that we the people of the USA need to alter our energy strategy. The question of how we will change it, however, needs to be determined by scientific evaluation of fact and logical analysis of performance and economics; not by emotion, political considerations, and “feel good” methodologies. With the exception of true R&D efforts, where governmental support and involvement can be useful (an epic & monumental admission for me), this is a question best answered by the free market and private enterprise.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: