One of the most challenging issues in the world today is the source of energy. The energy that is in our power grids has never been enough to cater for the needs of all people. On the other hand, the attempt to increase the amount of energy produced has also been accompanied by some challenges. Nations are still opting for the use of the nonrenewable sources of energy to supplement their energy demands. However, the same has been accompanied by environmental challenges due to the heavy pollution. Some of the proposed solutions to the problems of energy are the fuel cells. These cells are known to cause less pollution to the environment. In this paper, I will lay an explicit focus on the fuel cells and explain how they work and whether they are feasible.
A fuel cell is a simple device that is specially designed to generate electricity through a process of chemical reaction. The fuel cells have two electrodes which are the anode and the cathode. The production of electricity takes place within these two electrodes. The fuel cells also have an electrolyte that contains ions that are transferred from one electrode to another. The process of reaction is always slow and to speed up the process of electrical generation, a catalyst is added. The fuel cells are very different from the typical cells where the chemicals in a battery form a reaction with each other so that they can produce electricity. In a cell, there must be a continuous supply of fuel and oxygen, so as to sustain the continuation of the whole reaction. The fuel cells produce the electrical power so long as the supply of the fuel is maintained.
The concept of fuel cells came into existence in 1838. The NASA space programs became the first programs to use the fuel cells for commercial activities. The fuel cells have gained a popularity and they have been continuously used as power back ups in industries and even in buildings. They have also been found to be of great use in the automobile industry where they have been used in the boats and submarines. Although the fuel cells exist in very different forms, the most common feature between all of them is that they must contain an anode and a cathode.
There have been no commercial productions of small fuel cells. Scientists have made different designs of fuel cells all in the search for a fuel cell that is efficient. The main challenge facing the scientists is the choice of the electrolyte. The electrodes mainly depend on the type of electrolyte that is used. Some of the cells cannot operate if the hydrogen is impure. A reformer is so significant since it helps in the purification of hydrogen. Some of the fuel types can tolerate the impurities and also operate efficiently.
There are different forms of electrolytes commonly used in the fuel cells. These include the proton exchange membrane, solid oxide, and alkali. The various cells have different energy production abilities and they have varying advantages and cons. However, the most unfortunate things that there is no fuel cell that can exceed the amount of power produced by the hydropower or the hydrocarbons power generators.
How fuel cells work
The cells are similar to the normal battery. The fuel cells have very many cells, arranged in a fuel cell stack. All the cells contain an anode and a cathode, and they also have a compound that serve as an electrolyte layer. Whenever the hydrogen fuel enters the stack, it reacts with the oxygen and the energy is produced. The reaction leads to the production of water energy and even heat.
The most amazing thing with a fuel cell is that it supplies the energy constantly as along as the supply of energy is constant. The different types of fuel cells work with different principles, and they consist of different components. For example, the carbonate fuel cell technology which mainly uses the electrolyte derived from potassium and lithium carbonates. In the process of electricity production, the fuel cell generates the hydrogen from fuel sources such as renewable biogas. The whole process is referred as the internal reforming. This ability of the carbonate cells is what has made the carbonate cells to be preferred than the other fuel types because they have a unique ability to use fuel that is locally generated. Fuel and methane supply the cells and the methane supplied goes through reformation and hydrogen plus carbon dioxide is produced.
The existing chemical reactions produce a direct current which is later converted to the alternating power through the electrical balance plants. The cells also have a cathode exhaust which is responsible for supplying warmth. The best thing with these fuel cells is that they do not use a combustion fuel. Therefore, the harmful emissions are not common. The technology can be of great help in reducing the emission of carbon dioxide and the environmental damages that result from the use of combustible fuels.
The carbon cells use compounds that require very high temperatures to melt. The efficiency of these cells is about 60-80 percent and they have an operating temperature of about 650 degrees. The high temperatures are very good since they prevent the inefficiency of the cell that results from carbon monoxide accumulation. Its productivity can range from 2 to 100 kW. Another type of cell that can be used in explaining the science of the functions of the fuel cell is the solid oxide fuels. These fuels are made of hard compounds from calcium oxides which serve as the main electrolyte.
The efficiency of these fuels is about 60 percent, and they require very temperatures about 1000 degrees. At optimal conditions, these cells have the ability to produce about 100kw. Due to the high temperatures that must exists, it is notable that a reformer is not necessary. The best thing with this type of cell is that the high energy can easily be recycled and converted into electricity. On the other hand, the high temperatures are also a disadvantage. They can easily cause the electrolyte to crack.
The main process that takes place in these cells is the flow of ions and electrons. The cathode and the anode have the catalyst that enables the process to speed up. The catalysts are very useful since they help in the formation of the electrons and the protons. The key reaction that takes place in the generation of electricity in the fuel cells is that the generation of electrons from the anode and the attraction of the ions by the cathode through the means of the external circuit. At the cathode electrode, the hydrogen ions the oxygen and the electrons react, and they end up producing water. The above reaction is very common in all the types of cells.
The feasibility of fuel cells
The fuel cells present a very feasible source of fuel that can be exploited to supplement the existing fuel sources. One of the most amazing features that make the fuel cells feasible is that the main component which is used is the hydrogen gas which is mainly used as a fuel. The hydrogen gas is readily available in the air, and this makes it easy to produce energy. On the other hand, the fuel cells emit a very low amount of carbon dioxide and thus they are worth the investment since they can reduce a number of environmental costs. Another key aspect that makes the fuel cells to be more feasible is the fact that the fuel cells tend to be very efficient than some of the diesel engines.
On the other hand, it is very easy to obtain hydrogen from water, and thus, the power generation does not have to be very dependent on the grid. Additionally, the hydrogen can easily be produced through the use of recycling. Overall the cost of fuel cells can be significantly low if properly managed. Its wide use in the home and industries also presents another key reason that makes it a feasible source of power that can guarantee sustainability of energy in the country.
In conclusion, the fuel cells are very important types of cells that are gaining popularity in the world today. There has been a growing need to come up with environmental friendly ways of producing energy. The fuel cells provide a viable solution to the former. The hydrogen gas serves as the main type of cell for the cells. So long as the flow of fuel is constant, the fuel cells will continue to produce fuels. There are different types of fuel cells such as carbonate cells depending on the electrolyte used. The fuel cells are feasible and efficient because all the required materials such as hydrogen are available in water and air. They form the best solution to the existing problem of air pollution.