Fuel Cell Energy

Fuel cells can provide heat and electricity for buildings and electrical power for vehicles and electronic devices.

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How fuel cells work?

Fuel cells work like batteries, but they don’t run out or need to be recharged. They produce electricity and heat as long as fuel is supplied.

A fuel cell consists of two electrodes, a negative electrode (or anode) and a positive electrode (or cathode), placed around an electrolyte. A fuel, such as hydrogen, is fed to the anode and air is fed to the cathode. In a polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell, a catalyst splits hydrogen atoms into protons and electrons, which take different paths to the cathode. The electrons pass through an external circuit, creating a flow of electricity. The protons migrate through the electrolyte to the cathode, where they meet with oxygen and electrons to produce water and heat.

Types of fuel cells

Although the basic operations of all fuel cells are the same, special varieties have been developed to take advantage of different electrolytes and meet different application needs.

The fuel and the charged species that migrate through the electrolyte may be different, but the principle is the same. An oxidation occurs at the anode, while a reduction occurs at the cathode. The two reactions are connected by a charged species migrating through the electrolyte and electrons flowing through the external circuit.

  • Polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells
  • Direct methanol fuel cell
  • Alkaline fuel cells
  • Phosphoric acid fuel cells
  • Molten carbonate fuel cells
  • Solid oxide fuel cells

Combined heat and power fuel cells

In addition to electricity, fuel cells produce heat. This heat can be used to meet heating needs, including space heating and hot water. Combined heat and power fuel cells are of interest for the supply of energy to houses and buildings, where total efficiency of up to 90% can be achieved. This highly efficient operation saves money, saves energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Regenerative or reversible fuel cells

This special class of fuel cells produces electricity from hydrogen and oxygen, but can be reversed and powered with electricity to produce hydrogen and oxygen. This emerging technology could provide storage of excess energy produced by intermittent renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power stations, releasing this energy in times of low power production.

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