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Hydrogen Fuel Cell | Introduction, Working Principle and Applications

Have you ever wondered that is there any possibility of producing electricity continuously without the emissions of harmful chemicals?  Have you ever thought of this idea to power your car through some amount of water? The answer to the above questions is that yes, it is possible because of the invention of the fuel cells. The main purpose of writing this article is to answer all of your questions related to the fuel cells.

Fuel cells were invented by Sir William Robert Grove, when he was doing research in his lab about the electrolysis, he thought that electrolysis needs electricity to break the water into Oxygen and Hydrogen, so he thought of the opposite of this, that what if he reverses the reaction to produce the electricity, he concluded that the opposite reaction produces electricity, so he developed a device which uses Hydrogen and Oxygen to produce electricity.

In general, a fuel cell is an electrical cell or device which utilizes the energy of chemical reaction to produce electricity along with the byproducts of heat and water. In fuel cells, hydrogen acts as a fuel for this cell.

The overall reaction for this cell is:

2H2 (gas) + O2(gas) → 2H2O + energy

A fuel cell will produce electricity as long as the fuel which is hydrogen is constantly supplied.

Fuel cell means the production of electricity through chemical reaction so therefore, it is highly efficient than old internal combustion engine technologies. Fuel cells are similar to the batteries we commonly use in our daily routine, but a battery contains everything which it requires and goes dead once the supply is finished, but the fuel cell will keep on working until we stop the supply of oxygen and hydrogen. In addition to this, fuel cells have no moving parts, so no wear and tear of the parts, and also no combustion in this process, so it is becoming a highly reliable source of energy in the present time and in the coming future.

Now you might be wondering how does this fuel cell work. So I will tell you about the complete working of the fuel cell.

Basically fuel cell needs three major components for a complete reaction which are same as electrolysis needs. It includes

  • Anode
  • Cathode
  • Electrolyte

First of all, hydrogen gas is passed through the anode where the chemical reaction takes place with the help of a catalyst e.g. platinum and the Hydrogen losses its electrons and become positively charged. In simple words, Hydrogen is ionized. Now all of these positively charged ions will move towards the electrolyte where the electrolyte roll starts.

The electrolyte must pass only the required ions towards the other end of the cell which is the cathode. If the electrolyte is not good, then it will allow other substances or electrons to pass through which will disrupt the chemical reaction. Oxygen gas is introduced at the cathode.

Figure 1: Working of Hydrogen fuel cell

Now the question is how the current will produce?

It is very simple as it can be described by the definition of current that current is the flow of electrons, and as we have already produced electrons through the ionization of hydrogen so those electrons will pass through the circuit and will produce an electric current. After completing the circuit, these electrons and the hydrogen ions will move towards the cathode, the Hydrogen ions will move towards the cathode via electrolyte and the electrons will move towards the cathode via a circuit, now the oxygen will pick up electrons and the Hydrogen ions and a chemical reaction take place which will produce water as a by-product. in other cell types, Oxygen takes the electrons and travels through the electrolyte to combine with hydrogen ions to make water, but that does not make a much difference because the main phenomena of producing electricity will remain same in all types of cells.

In this way, as we go on supplying the hydrogen and the oxygen the fuel cell will go on producing the current. Since the fuel cells produce electricity through chemical reaction instead of traditional combustion methods, they are not subjected to thermodynamic laws that limit the old technologies.

Also for higher power requirements, we can combine these cells for higher power output according to our requirement.

Now you might be wondering where we can use this electricity? Can we use it for only smaller objects just like to turn on the bulb or to run the fan or can we use this technology to run large machines, so let’s talks about the applications of the Hydrogen fuel cell in which areas we can use this cell? Hydrogen fuel cells produce power for almost everything from our automobile industry to commercial buildings.

NASA is the first user to use hydrogen fuel batteries for electrical sources. Hydrogen fuel cells can produce electricity for any portable device that uses batteries to run their devices including our smartphones. Hydrogen fuel batteries are considered to be the fuel for electricity in the future.

When we use these batteries in cars, just like traditional batteries, we will no need to charge those batteries, we just have to provide them with the basic fuel and it will go on working, and it is much better than our old combustion system because it is 2-3 times efficient, smooth and no emissions. This technology can also be used in drone technology because of lighter weight fuel,

Hydrogen fuel batteries can be used as a backup power system when the primary power system is shut down. It can be used as a primary power source for the houses (stationary application) which are not connected to the grid.

Fuel cells are the new shape of the technology in the near future where everything will rely on them because of their higher reliability, high performance and no emissions of harmful pollutants.

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