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Environmental Science Project

Hydrogen Fuel Cells
by

Nate Hoxie

on 16 October 2012

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Transcript of Environmental Science Project

photo credit Nasa / Goddard Space Flight Center / Reto Stöckli Clean Energy for the Future? Hydrogen Fuel Cells How does it work? A hydrogen fuel cell works similar to a battery. There are two electrodes (one cathode, one anode). Hydrogen gas (H2) is ionized to 2H+ and 2e- using a catalyst. Electricity is created as the electrons travel through an electrolyte from the anode to the cathode. Meanwhile, the protons (H+) recombine with O2 to form the waste product of a hydrogen fuel cell, water. Sounds great, right? Exactly, it is the holy grail of renewable energy. After all, hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and its waste product is just water. Pure drinkable water. And the reaction is not even all that complicated, why haven't we done this before? Well it's not that simple... There are a lot of problems with hydrogen fuel cell technology. First of all, we have to think about safety. The Hindenburg was caused by a hydrogen explosion and some people would be pretty upset if that happened again. Hydrogen is a volatile gas, so we have to be careful when handling it. This makes transportation and storage costs prohibitively high. ..and there are a few more problems. Like I said, Hydrogen is a volatile gas, it does not occur naturally on Earth, because it would just combine with other elements as soon as it is created. This means it has to manufactured...which requires energy. As a result, the current net energy of hydrogen fuel cell technology is low. How IS hydrogen gas produced? Today, 95% of H2 is created through steam reformation. At high temperatures, natural gas reacts with oxygen to produce Hydrogen and carbon monoxide gas. The hydrogen gas is harvested and used for fuel cells.
WAIT! Natural Gas is a fossil fuel...and the very process creates carbon monoxide. Doesn't that miss the point entirely?
Pretty much, yeah. So we need to come up with another way to produce H2... So what is the alternative? Well we could use electrolysis, but this method is net energy negative, so that is not viable.
Biohydrogen Reactor
In the late 90's it was discovered that C. reinhardtii algae produce hydrogen gas produce hydrogen when deprived of sulfur. It is believed that this process has the potential to create hydrogen gas while maintaining an overall net energy gain, thereby making hydrogen a viable fuel. Nate Hoxie + NET ENERGY = Energy consumed __________________ Energy produced The Big Picture Hydrogen Fuel Cells have great potential to be a staple energy source of the future, but it will not be the future of tomorrow, or even next year. An energy network based on hydrogen fuel cells will not be viable for at least a decade and will require an immense investment. However, the potential pay off of such an investment is extraordinary. Hydrogen fuel cells may very well ultimately be the form of renewable energy used in the next century and beyond. Positives
A long term solution for renewable energy
Produces no pollutants
Can be created just about anywhere on the globe, all countries could be energy independent Negatives
Currently has a low net energy.
Infrastructure is not there
Will take a lot of investment before any gain is seen
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