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Tag Archives: Proton exchange membrane fuel cell

Hydrogen is the cleanest source of energy that can power your homes and fuel your cars. It can potentially substitute diesel and petrol or coal and clean up our environment. Hydrogen has been manufactured industrially for the past several decades and transported across thousand of kilometers by pipelines in Europe. The science and technology of Hydrogen is well known but its application to generate power and fuel a car is relatively new. The gasoline internal combustion engines that drive our gasoline cars can be modified to suit Hydrogen fuel. But the physical and chemical properties of Hydrogen gas created a necessity to alter existing gasoline engines for commercialization. But such conversion has been painfully slow for couple of reasons. There is a stiff resistance from gasoline cars to switch over to Hydrogen because they have a well established infrastructure to manufacture gasoline cars and to supply gasoline through well established distribution network. But Hydrogen cars lack both of them. Even if the cars can be modified for Hydrogen, there are no sales or distribution network for the fuel Hydrogen, similar to Gasoline. Even consumers need to be educated that Hydrogen is safe, environmentally friendly and we need not depend on import of oil and so on. It is a blessing in disguise that Hydrogen can be generated by each home, business and industries for their captive use from their tap water. Recently Hydrogen fuelled scooters have been introduced in the market. There are number of advertisements in the media too; that you can fit a Hydrogen generator at your car that will reduce your gasoline bills substantially and also cut your emissions.But these Electrolyzers can generate only water gas and not a pure Hydrogen. Yet such simple devices can help reduce your petrol bills to an extend .If things are so simple why are we still struggling with high crude oil prices and increasing electricity bills? Let us examine this in detail. Water (H2O) can be split into Hydrogen (H2) and Oxygen (O2) by simply passing an electric current through water using a battery. The water disassociate as follows: 2    H2o———   2 H2+ )2 Stochiometrically, it means 36 lits of water will generate 4 Kgs of Hydrogen and 32 kgs of Oygygen.The current PEM (Proton exchange membrane) Fuel cell car (Honda FCX clarity) can drive 100 miles with just 0.105 kgs of Hydrogen from 5000 psi Hydrogen tank. Similarly 4kgs of hydrogen can generate about 100 kws of electricity using PEM Fuel cell, based on a conservative estimate; but 4Kgs of gasoline can generate only 15 kW electricity. The gasoline engine offers only 100km mileage from 13 kgs (16lits) of gasoline. In other words, 0.105 kgs of Hydrogen at 5000 psi gives the same mileage as 16 lits of Gasoline.  This is the amazing power of water, yet to be unleashed! The tap water is suitable to generate Hydrogen by adding a little amount of potash lye to improve the electrical conductivity. An Alkaline water electrolyzer can be attached to the water tank to generate required amount of Hydrogen based on the above calculation. The resulting Hydrogen has to be compressed to a required level. The power consumption to electrolyze water will be about 75-80 kwhrs per Kg of Hydrogen generated at 5000 psi.Therefore 4Kgs of Hydrogen will need a power of 300kwhrs costing about $30 for a total mileage of 3800 miles. You will need a small reverse osmosis unit to be attached to your water tap so that the water is de-ionized so that there is no precipitation in the Electrolyzer or reduction in the efficiency of electrolysis. Recently, Suzuki Bargeman introduced Hydrogen Fuel cell scooter which claims to offer a mileage of 200km from 12 lits Hydrogen (carbon composite material) tank at an higher pressure of 10,000psi.The future of Hydrogen car is very promising and finally the world can hope to get rid of smoke and noise from our roads and cities.

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.

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