What are fuel cells? Fuel cells are electrochemical devices that convert the chemical energy of a fuel directly and very efficiently into electricity (DC) and heat, thus doing away with combustion. The most suitable fuel for such cells is hydrogen or a mixture of compounds containing hydrogen. A fuel cell consists of an electrolyte sandwiched between two electrodes. Oxygen passes over one electrode and hydrogen over the other, and they react electrochemically to generate electricity, water, and heat.
Though fuel cells have been used in space flights and combined supplies of heat and power, electric vehicles are the best option available to dramatically reduce urban air pollution. Compared to vehicles powered by the internal combustion engine, fuel-cell powered vehicles have very high energy conversion efficiency, (almost double that of currently used engines) and near-zero pollution, CO2 and water vapour being the only emissions. Fuel-cell-powered EV's (electric vehicles) score over battery operated EV's in terms of increased efficiency and easier and faster refuelling.
Canadas Ballads Power Systems and Germanys Dailmer-Benz are world leaders in the application of fuel cell technology for meeting transportation needs. In India, diesel-run buses are a major means of transport and these emit significant quantities of SPM and SO2. Thus, fuel-cell powered buses could be introduced with relative ease and yet make a positive impact on urban air quality. Such buses are already in operation in Vancouver in Canada and in Illinois and California in the USA. Though rapid progress has been made, high initial cost is still the biggest hurdle in the widespread commercialization of fuel cells.
Fuel cells for power generation India has a large gap between the demand for and supply of power. Conventional large-scale power plants use non-renewable fuels with significant adverse ecological and environmental impacts. Fuel cell systems are excellent candidates for small-scale decentralized power generation.
Fuel cells can supply combined heat and power to commercial buildings, hospitals, airports and military installation at remote locations. Fuel cells have efficiency levels up to 55% as compared to 35% of conventional power plants. The emissions are significantly lower (CO2 and water vapour being the only emissions). Fuel cell systems are modular (i.e. additional capacity can be added whenever required with relative ease) and can be set up wherever power is required.
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