Definition of Fuel Cell

What Are Fuel Cells?

Fuel cells are electrochemical cells that provide direct electrical energy through the continuous catalytic reaction of a fuel and an oxidant in the presence of an electrolyte. In most thermal power combustion engines, fuel is burned to create electrical work – a process that is still inefficient as it operates at about 40% efficiency.

Most fuel cells combine hydrogen (the fuel) derived from a fossil fuel such as gasoline, propane, natural gas, or methanol, with oxygen (the oxidant). Alternative fuels include hydrocarbons and alcohols, and oxidant alternatives include chlorine and chlorine dioxide. The hydrogen and oxygen flow into the fuel cell where they react and then flow back out resulting in only water as a byproduct. This makes fuel cells essentially pollution-free.

Though there are great hopes that fuel cells will solve a great many of the energy problems faced by our society today – including greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, air pollution, and so on associated with current fuels used in cars and fossil fuels used for producing electricity – there are some problems with the technology at present. Most importantly, hydrogen is difficult to distribute and store, and upgrading existing fuel station infrastructure to accommodate hydrogen will be time-consuming and costly.

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