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Hydrogen Fuel Cell Definition

Hydrogen Fuel Cell

Hydrogen fuel cells directly convert the chemical energy of the hydrogen into electrical power that is used to run vehicles and other machines without polluting the environment.

What Are Hydrogen Fuel Cells?

Hydrogen is an abundant element in the universe, but on planet Earth, it can be found usually bonded to other elements (water), from which needs to be extracted to be used by fuel cells.

Because hydrogen can be extracted from water, almost all the countries in the world have access to hydrogen and can use hydrogen fuel cells to produce electricity that will power their vehicles.

Hydrogen fuel cell engines can power from small to large vehicles (even trucks), buildings, and can be used to run backup generators for large computer operations (NASA used fuel cells in 1965 in the Gemini 5 Space Program).

Fuel cells can be used without the support of the electrical grid and they can handle critical load functions such as data centers, hospitals and emergency response systems, telecommunication towers and they have a role in national defense by powering several military applications created for this purpose.

Hydrogen fuel cells can produce electrical power without releasing harmful emissions into the atmosphere which means that they can be used as an alternative to combustion engines that are using fossil fuels and are polluting the environment.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Engine Production Process

Each hydrogen fuel cell is made out of five parts and on each end of the cell there is a channeled plate that is made primarily from carbon in order to conduct electricity.

Hydrogen enters the fuel cell through the first plate which channels the gas through the next component which is a chemically treated paper that can conduct both gas and electricity.

After that hydrogen enters a membrane where is split into protons and electrons, and protons will react with oxygen producing water.

The water will pass through another paper to the cells outer plate where a pump draws it away.

The electrons will travel to the end of the stack of fuel cells and reaching the electrical wires.

Hydrogen fuel cells are stacked and pressed

A hydrogen fuel cell is assembled by stacking and pressing the fuel cells into a hydraulic press.

High compression is needed to allow the electric current flow smoothly from cell to cell, and the hydraulic press is also used to press the rubber gasket around each plate to the adjacent one that is used to seal the stack, which prevents the hydrogen from leaking out.

Nitrogen gas will be used to verify if the fuel cells are perfectly sealed.

Before releasing the press, a few high strength steel rods will be installed to bind the compressed fuel cells together.

The more fuel cells in the stack, the more pressure will be applied by the steel rods.

After removing the stack of fuel cells from the press an electrical circuit board will be attached to the stack, which will monitor the voltage of each fuel cell.

The connectors on the circuit board will be attached to the stack using an adhesive strip which will be secured with a special epoxy containing silver used to conduct electricity.

The circuit board will then be attached to the fuel cell stack and covered with a plastic plate for protection.

The stack of hydrogen fuel cells will then be tested by connecting a hydrogen line, an air line and a water line for cooling the cells.

Tests take up to three hours

A three hours automated performance test will be run and if everything runs smoothly, the technicians will mount the stack of fuel cells onto the engine’s structural frame.

Will follow the installation of a hydrogen recirculation pump and a water pump that will be used to cool the engine.

Components used to supply the fuel cells with hydrogen will be then installed, and the hydrogen that is stored at high pressure in the fuel tank will push the gas through the stainless steel fuel cells.

A fan will blow outside air into the fuel cell to react with the hydrogen and a filter will be installed to remove dust and other contaminants that could be sent by the fan into the fuel.

A computer will be assembled to control the entire engine, and the wires from the fan, the pumps and the other components of the engine will be connected to the computer.

The fuel cell output wiring will be then connected to send the electricity produced by the hydrogen fuel cells to the device or the engine that will be powered.

A small part of the electricity produced by the fuel cells will be used to power the pumps and the other engine components.

The hydrogen fuel cell is subject to an extensive performance and safety test

When finished, the hydrogen fuel cell engine will be verified during an extensive performance and safety test.

If the engine will pass all the tests, a sheet metal cover will be installed to protect the engine.

The hydrogen fuel cell engine will be then delivered to customers to power vehicles and large data centers, and beside electricity the only by-product resulted will be water and waste heat.

Due to the fact that hydrogen fuel cells are producing only electricity, waste heat and water they can be successfully used as an alternative to engines burning fossil fuels.

Hydrogen fuel cells are also different from batteries because they don’t run out and don’t need recharging as long as fuel and oxygen is supplied.

If the hydrogen used by fuel cells is produced from methane or using renewable energy (solar, wind or other forms of clean energy), we can say that hydrogen fuel cells are not producing greenhouse gas emissions at all, and the only waste resulted is heat and water.

Cars Running on Hydrogen Fuel Cells

All cars that run using hydrogen fuel cells are almost similar to regular cars that run on fossil fuels such as gasoline and diesel excepting the emissions because a full tank of hydrogen will ensure a range of about 300 miles.

To refuel the tank with hydrogen you need to wait only a few minutes (3 to 5 minutes) at the hydrogen station, something similar like refueling with gasoline or diesel at a regular gas station.

However, a car that runs on hydrogen fuel cells has no moving parts, so changing the oil is no longer needed.

A car using hydrogen fuel cells is more efficient than a car that uses a combustion engine running on gasoline or diesel, which means that the electric car that runs on hydrogen fuel cells will have the same range, but will consume less fuel (hydrogen).

39 Commercial Hydrogen Stations in the U.S. Today

Only in the U.S., we have today 39 hydrogen stations and a few private stations.

On the east coast of the U.S., we can find a number or four hydrogen stations, one in Massachusetts, one in Connecticut and two in South Carolina.

However, on the west coast, we have a number of 34 hydrogen stations all being located in California and only one is close to Nevada (the station near Truckee), which means that California is the U.S. state that is very open towards clean technologies and renewable energy.

Final thought

Only the next decades will show us if hydrogen vehicles have a future within mankind, or their place will be taken by electric cars running on powerful batteries.

Article written by:

I am a writer and reporter for the clean energy sector, I cover climate change issues, new clean technologies, sustainability and green cars. Danny Ovy

1 Comment

  1. Ken

    It’s perfect time to make some plans for the longer term and it’s time to be happy because hydrogen is finally considered a clean source of power.
    Perhaps you can write more articles about hydrogen and about cars powered by hydrogen.

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