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There has been a push in this country toward using alternative fuels – specifically hydrogen fuels that are required to run on hydrogen fuel cells. So what is a hydrogen fuel cell? The explanation can be easy or it can be complicated. We’ll try to make it easy!

A fuel cell is an electrochemical energy conversion device. A fuel cell converts the chemicals hydrogen and oxygen into water, and in the process it produces electricity. The other electrochemical device that we are all familiar with is the battery. A battery has all of its chemicals stored inside, and it converts those chemicals into electricity too. This means that a battery eventually “goes dead” and you either throw it away or recharge it.

With a fuel cell, chemicals constantly flow into the cell so it never goes dead — as long as there is a flow of chemicals into the cell, the electricity flows out of the cell. Most fuel cells in use today use hydrogen and oxygen as the chemicals. The biggest advantage to a hydrogen fuel cell is that the only thing it emits when used as a fuel is water vapor.

You cannot ask the question “What is a hydrogen fuel cell?” without considering the types of fuel cells that have been produced. The main type of hydrogen fuel cell is the polymer exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC). This is the fuel cell that the Department of Energy is focusing on as the next big thing because it is the most likely candidate for transportation applications.

The PEMFC has a high power density and a relatively low operating temperature (ranging from 60 to 80 degrees Celsius, or 140 to 176 degrees Fahrenheit). The low operating temperature means that it doesn’t take very long for the fuel cell to warm up and begin generating electricity.

There is another type of hydrogen fuel cell that shows promise when trying to operate a vehicle. This one is the direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC). Methanol fuel cells are comparable to a PEMFC in regards to operating temperature, but are not as efficient. Also, the DMFC requires a relatively large amount of platinum to act as a catalyst, which makes these fuel cells expensive.

What is a hydrogen fuel cell? It is the next new wave of emerging technology in the field of alternative fuels that will help our country as well as our environment. A hydrogen fuel cell vehicle burns clean and runs efficiently. It is what alternative fuel supporters have hoped for since the advent of alternative fuels for energy – a clean vehicle that runs great and has safe emissions.

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