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Power generation using fossil fuels is a well established technology dating back to 1839, when Michael Faraday invented the principle of Electro-magnetism. There was not much of a change in this technology all these years. But recently greenhouse emission and global warming has become an issue; and the world started looking for an alternative source of energy and method of power generation. However it is not an easy task to develop completely a different technology as well as a fuel in a short span of time, while an unabated man-made greenhouse gas emission continues. Scientists  are now warning  catastrophic consequences if we do not curtail greenhouse gas emissions with great urgency.Untill now the world was able to avert some of the potentially  catastrophic events happening, like ozone layer depletion, pandemic bird flu etc.But global warming is a new thereat  that demands an entirely a new solution and a swift action. But most countries in the world are not is a place to curtain greenhouse emission gas, simply because there is no alternative fuel known, except fossil fuels. Renewable energy is relatively a new concept. Though we knew about solar and wind energy sources, we did not persuade  them seriously because they could not compete with conventional fossil fuels. But the time has come for new emerging technologies that can not only compete with fossil fuels but also eliminate greenhouse emissions. The world has invested massively on fossil fuel infrastructures and still investing heavily on oil and gas explorations. Obviously there is no end in sight as far as fossil fuels are concerned and the world is carrying on business as usual.

Meanwhile a new technology based on fuel cell is emerging as an alternative for power generation. Fuel cell is a known concept and it has been successfully deployed in ‘Apollo space programme in space shuttle. This old version of alkaline fuel cells was replaced with PEM (proton exchange membrane) fuel cell or (PEMF) Polymer electrode membrane fuel cell. This new version was used in Gemini’s space programme in sixties. Fuel cell is an electro chemical device that uses Hydrogen gas as a fuel and it operates at ambient temperature. It is like a battery cell. The difference between fuel cell and batteries is the Fuel cell will keep generating power as long as fuel is supplied unlike a battery, where energy is stored in the form of chemical energy and converted into electrical energy when used by connecting through a conductor. Battery needs recharging but Fuel cell requires refueling. The fuel used in Fuel cell is invariably Hydrogen. Conventional power generation involves combustion of fossil fuel (heat energy) which drives a turbine (mechanical energy) to run an alternator to generate power (electrical energy).In fuel cell; Hydrogen gas reacts with oxygen from the atmosphere (electrochemically) to generate power. It produces water as by-product. The efficiency of Fuel cell is about 50-60% compared to 35-40% by steam or gas turbine. In regenerative fuel cell, we can split water into Hydrogen and oxygen using same proton exchange membrane elecrolyzer.We can use the resulting Hydrogen as a Fuel to the PEM Fuel cell to generate power, thus recovering  water. It is a closed circuit system. There are no mechanical moving parts, no combustion, no smoke or no noise. It is a quiet and clean operation. It is a very promising technology that can revolutionize the way we produce fuel and generate power. The Hydrogen and fuel cell combination is used in cars. Honda FCX (fuel cell model) cars work on the same principle and they are already on roads!

One problem with Hydrogen generation is it requires more power to split water, into Hydrogen and oxygen, than the power generated by resulting hydrogen, using Fuel cell. However, this technology will change the future of power generation by eliminating greenhouse emission completely. But how long it will take to become a commercial reality is something we have to wait and see! If political leaders and Governments around the world recognize the potential of this technology and take bold decisions together with swift actions, probably our future generation can breathe a clean air.

There is a myth that electric cars will eliminate Greenhouse gas emission and reduce the global warming. Electric car will not reduce the greenhouse emission because; you still need electricity to charge your batteries. Companies promoting electric cars are now planning to set up their own battery charging stations because, customers have to charge batteries of these electric cars every now and then. Otherwise, they will not be able to drive their electric cars continuously.  There is no battery currently in the market that can last more than 28 hours between the charges, though many companies are trying to develop superior batteries. One company claims a Battery(electricity) of 300whr/kg, for their LLithium-ion polymer battery, much superior than other batteries, which can run 600kms, with 6 minutes charging. Though, new batteries such as semi solid Lithium-ion battery, based on the principle of ‘flow batteries’, are promising, it is still, a long way to commercialization. President Obama  has set a set a target of 1 million electric cars in US roads, by 2012.It is estimated that US has to produce about 40 billion dollars worth of domestically produced batteries. A lithium-ion battery which weighs less and stores more energy is the promising technology. But Lithium resources are limited. Battery is the heart of an electric car. These electric cars do not emit smoke, or make noise like petrol cars. But, these two factors alone are not sufficient to substitute traditional fossil fuel powered international combustion engines.

It is also true, that electric cars can cut green house emission to an extent, where fossil fuel consumed cars are replaced with electric cars. To that extend, the fossil fuel consumption by these cars are reduced. But the power to charge the batteries will still have to come from the common grid. Unless the power generation technology using fossil fuels is changed, there will be no dramatic greenhouse gas emission reduction by introducing electric cars. Alternatively, if cars are built on Hydrogen based fuel either using a conventional Internal combustion engine, or by using Fuel cell, then a substantial amount of greenhouse emission can be eliminated. However Hydrogen generation should be based on Renewable energy source only. Whichever way one looks at it, renewable energy is the key. Those Governments and companies who do not invest in renewable energy technologies and systems, now, will have to pay a heavy price, in the future. But even those companies investing on renewable energy technologies, should look beyond current technologies and systems. The best starting point for these industries will be to substitute ‘storage batteries’ with ‘stored Hydrogen’.

It is much simpler to install PV solar panels or wind turbines, and to generate Hydrogen on site, from water. One can store Hydrogen in fuelling stations, and fuel the cars. Honda was the first entrant into this market, who was focusing on fuel cell technology, using compressed hydrogen gas. Alternatively such Hydrogen can be generated from ‘Biogas’ generated from biological wastes and waste treatment plants. All necessary technologies are currently available to make it happen. Governments can try to promote small townships with Hydrogen fuel stations, and show case such models to the rest of the country or other nations to follow. This will help nations to reduce their greenhouse emission and at the same time, they can become self-sufficient in their energy requirements. They no longer have to depend on polluting oil and gas, from few Middle East countries. Countries like India with impressive economic growth heavily depend on oil imports and any slight fluctuation in oil prices can easily upset such growth. It is time Governments around the world take a serious look at Hydrogen, as their alternative energy source. It is just not good enough to promote renewable energy technologies, but they have to develop generation, storage and distribution technologies for Hydrogen. What is needed at this hour is, ‘will, determination and leadership’ on the part of the Governments, like US, China and India, that can set an example for the rest of the world by investing in Hydrogen economy.

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