The question of climate change is so urgent that one can hardly discuss any endeavor without questioning how it affects the environment. Energy sources are the greatest culprits in greenhouse gas production, so a discussion of energy can’t be divorced from climate change. Is it renewable energy? This is the first and most important question concerning an energy source.
What about fuel cells? Are they renewable energy? The answer to this question is yes. However, how much renewable energy they are at any given time depends on the fuel they are using. We need to briefly explore how a fuel cell works to understand how they are renewable energy.
How Do Fuel Cells Work?
Fuel cells produce electrical energy through chemical reactions at the cell’s electrodes. A fuel cell has two electrodes known as an anode and a cathode. Cells also contain an electrolyte, the medium through which electrically charged particles move from anode to cathode and vice versa.
The cell works when one feeds hydrogen to the anode and oxygen to the cathode (pure hydrogen is the most common fuel used in these cells.) A catalyst in the anode breaks down hydrogen molecules into electrons and protons. The two, now broken down, parts of the hydrogen molecules travel through the electrolyte towards the cathode. These electrons create electricity as they move through an external circuit.
Protons, on the other hand, move through the electrolyte to the cathode, where they come back together with the electrons and oxygen. This three-fold combination produces water and heat. The two are the residue of this reaction.
Figure 1: Shows how a fuel cell works
Fuel Cell Fuels
Besides using pure hydrogen as fuel, it is possible to have other liquid fuels from which the fuel cell and related systems can extract hydrogen that fuel cells can then take through the process described above.
Liquid fuels that allow such extraction include methanol, ethanol, and ammonia. They have the disadvantage of poisoning the catalyst layer on the anode. The breakdown of this layer reduces the cell’s efficiency in breaking down hydrogen molecules, bringing down the quantity of energy you can generate.
It is also possible to use biogas and gasoline in the fuel cell. The effects of using gasoline in a fuel cell are not as destructive to the environment as it is when you use it in an internal combustion engine. Most of the pollution from vehicles comes from buying fossil fuels, but fuel cell uses a chemical reaction to produce energy.
Nevertheless, as long as a fuel cell uses gasoline, it may be disqualified from being considered renewable energy. This is different if you use biogas, whose generation process is sustainable.
Pure hydrogen is the cleanest, most efficient fuel in a fuel cell because its only residue is water. Nevertheless, it is difficult to use commercially due to its instability. The other fuels we have mentioned are handy because they are more stable.
Their stability makes the commercialization of cell fuel possible. Although this is the case, it is important to note that at no time do fuel cells fit in the renewable energy category than when using pure hydrogen as a fuel.
Fig 2: Conversion to renewable energy, Image Source: FuelcellEnergy
The Following Are Some Benefits of Using Fuels Cell
Fuel is Readily Available
No matter which fuel one uses to generate energy from a fuel cell, it is because that fuel contains hydrogen. Hydrogen is the fuel. Also, hydrogen is the most common element in the world, both in the air and water. Once discoveries are made to help extract hydrogen from water easily, there will be an endless supply of clean fuel. Furthermore, the energy will be clean with no adverse effects on the environment since it produces water and heat as the main residues.
It Is More Efficient Than Gasoline And Other Fossil Fuels
The technology in these cells has high-density energy sources that far surpass the energy we get from burning the same volume of fossil fuel. Also, hydrogen has the most energy density than any other fuel, and it produces more energy than any other energy source.
They Have no Emissions
As mentioned earlier, this fuel’s by-product is water and heat. The fuel, therefore, releases no greenhouse gasses contributing to reducing global warming. Virtually every other source of power requires producing a certain measure of emissions.
It is Highly Efficient
Hydrogen fuel cells are highly efficient. Their efficiency exceeds that of other green and regular energy sources. These fuel cells produce 65% energy compared to 35% for an equal measure of fuel.
A good illustration of the effectiveness of this type of fuel is in hydrogen vehicles. They use 50% of the fuel gasoline vehicles use due to hydrogen’s higher efficiency.
They Charge Quickly, and they Can be Used for Long
The speed of charging for hydrogen fuel cells is a convenience that makes them attractive. Many people, therefore, extend the clean energy benefit through continuous usage. The cells can charge in under five minutes, so they have virtually no downtime.
Besides quick charging, hydrogen cells have longer usage times. They have the longest usage among innovative clean energy solutions. Their range is comparable to the one reached by fossil fuels. Furthermore, the external temperature doesn’t affect the cells’ performance, unlike electric vehicles, which are meant to be a clean energy solution to fortune fuel-burning vehicles.
They Are Silent
The friendliness of these cells to the environment extends beyond greenhouse gases. These cells are quiet, unlike other renewable power sources. Also, using these cells doesn’t change the landscape’s appearance, unlike other energy sources that require huge installations to work.
In conclusion, fuel cells are renewable energy. Renewable energy is not only borne out by the lack of emissions during power generation but also due to the efficiency of the fuel. This power generation method is also easy on other forms of pollution such as sight and noise pollution. The natural availability of inexhaustible quantities of hydrogen further enhances the cells’ clean energy credential.