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Fuel Cells – Green Power pdf

Fuel Cells – Green Power

A Brief History

Although fuel cells have been around since 1839, it took 120 years
until NASA demonstrated some of their potential applications in
providing power during space flight. As a result of these successes, in
the 1960s, industry began to recognize the commercial potential of
fuel cells, but encountered technical barriers and high investment costs
— fuel cells were not economically competitive with existing energy
technologies. Since 1984, the Office of Transportation Technologies at
the U.S. Department of Energy has been supporting research and
development of fuel cell technology, and as a result, hundreds of
companies around the world are now working towards making fuel
cell technology pay off. Just as in the commercialization of the electric
light bulb nearly one hundred years ago, today’s companies are
being driven by technical, economic, and social forces such as high
performance characteristics, reliability, durability, low cost, and
environmental benefits.

Carnot Cycle vs. Fuel Cells

The theoretical thermodynamic derivation of Carnot Cycle shows
that even under ideal conditions, a heat engine cannot convert all
the heat energy supplied to it into mechanical energy; some of the
heat energy is rejected. In an internal combustion engine, the engine
accepts heat from a source at a high temperature (T1), converts part of
the energy into mechanical work and rejects the remainder to a heat
sink at a low temperature (T2). The greater the temperature difference
between source and sink, the greater the efficiency.
A fuel cell is an electrochemical cell that converts the chemical energy of a fuel into electricity through an electrochemical reaction of fuel containing hydrogen with oxygen or other oxidizing agent. Fuel cells are different from batteries by requiring a continuous source of fuel and oxygen (usually from the air) to sustain the chemical reaction, whereas in a battery the chemical energy comes from chemicals already present in the battery. Fuel cells can produce electricity continuously while fuel and oxygen are supplied.

The first fuel cells were invented in 1838. The first commercial use of fuel cells came more than a century later in NASA's space programs to generate energy for satellites and space caps. Since then, fuel cells have been used in many other applications. Fuel cells are used for primary and backup energy for commercial, industrial and residential buildings and in remote or inaccessible areas. They are also used to power fuel cell vehicles, including forklifts, automobiles, buses, boats, motorcycles and submarines.

There are many types of fuel cells, but they all consist of an anode, a cathode and an electrolyte that allow positively charged hydrogen ions (protons) to move between the two sides of the fuel cell. At the anode, a catalyst causes the fuel to undergo oxidation reactions that generate protons (positively charged hydrogen ions) and electrons. Protons flow from the anode to the cathode through the electrolyte after the reaction. At the same time, the electrons are extracted from the anode to the cathode through an external circuit, producing electricity of direct current. At the cathode, another catalyst causes hydrogen ions, electrons, and oxygen to react to form water. Fuel cells are classified by the type of electrolyte they use and by the difference in start-up time ranging from 1 second for proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) to 10 minutes for fuel cells solid oxide (SOFC). Individual fuel cells produce relatively small electrical potentials of about 0.7 volts, whereby the cells are "stacked" or placed in series to create sufficient voltage to meet the needs of an application. In addition to electricity, fuel cells produce water, heat and, depending on the fuel source, very small amounts of nitrogen dioxide and other emissions. The energy efficiency of a fuel cell is generally between 40-60%; however, if the residual heat is captured in a cogeneration scheme, efficiencies of up to 85% can be obtained.

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