Fuel cells use redox reactions and transform the energy of a fuel and an oxidizing agent into electricity. It has wide applications ranging from transportation technology to commercial buildings. We have come to realize we need to protect our environment by using clean energy. And, using fuels cells is one step towards achieving this goal. We discussed the advantages and disadvantages of renewable energy already. Fossil fuels emit carbon, which is harmful to the environment, so this provides a perfect alternative. It is used to drive motors, as it converts chemical energy into electrical energy to power. With that said, let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of a fuel cell.
Advantages of Fuel Cell
The good part about fuel cells is that they keep on generating electricity depending on the fuel and oxidizing agent provided, which eliminates the requirement of re-charging it. Here are some other benefits of fuel cells.
We have discussed in our previous post how renewable energy sources are a good option. But compared to conventional energy sources, it is still less efficient. However, this is not the case with fuel cells. Compared to most fossil fuels, fuel cells are highly efficient. Additionally, they are very effective in comparison to other green energy solutions. And for this reason, it has wide applications including warehouse logistics, transportation, power generation, and global distribution.
Hydrogen is used in fuel cells, and it is one of the most abundant elements found in nature. A process called reforming helps to separate hydrogen from organic compounds, making it a renewable energy source. You can also find hydrogen in large quantities in water. Along with water, it is also available in hydrocarbons. There are several processes using which hydrogen can be made available to be used in fuel cells.
Fuel cells are a reliable energy source that is both easy to obtain and non-toxic. They are also scalable, which means they can be combined to form stacks, eventually forming larger systems. Also, for critical load functions such as emergency response systems, hospitals, and data centers, fuel cells have proved to be reliable because of their grid-independence feature. In fact, transporting other energy sources to remote areas can be quite expensive and time-consuming. Using an alternative such as fuel cells will provide them with a non-polluting option in energy sources.
4. Clean energy source
A fuel cell produces electricity through the constant supply of fuel source and oxygen and without emissions. This means it cleanly produces power, making it a clean energy source. The byproducts of fuel cells are water and heat, so there are no toxic emissions, in turn protecting the environment.
5. Environmentally friendly
As we have discussed, since there are almost no emissions in fuel cells, it is a very environmentally friendly option. Greenhouse gases are causing damage to our environment, and most of the traditional fuels emit these gases. This is why it has become more important than ever to look for alternatives that provide the same or better results, but with no harm to our environment. The direct benefit of using fuel cells is that it diminishes pollution. With this, at least our quality of air will not deteriorate. Furthermore, other energy sources produce noise pollution, and fuel cells don’t, making it a favorable option.
Fuel cells are very compact, so they don’t occupy much space. Additionally, since they can be combined to form larger systems, this increases their power output without taking up more space. This is extremely beneficial for applications that have space constraints. In addition, fuel cells can be easily integrated into existing designs, making them a very space-saving option.
Fuel cells can be used in various applications, from powering vehicles to providing backup power for homes and businesses. They are also used in the military to provide portable power for soldiers. Additionally, fuel cells can be used in various industries, such as transportation, construction, mining, and more.
Disadvantages of Fuel Cell
Looking at the immense benefits of fuel cells above, you might start to consider them the best option among energy sources. But, let’s take a step back, and look at its drawbacks. Here are some disadvantages of fuel cells.
1. Extraction process
We know hydrogen does not exist on its own, the reason being it is highly reactive. So, we have to extract it first, then use it in fuel cells. But the extraction process is not that simple. No doubt, once the hydrogen is extracted, it can be used to generate an enormous amount of energy, but the tedious process of producing hydrogen can discourage people from choosing it over other energy sources.
We have been using fossil fuels for the longest time and can safely say we have the infrastructure to support it. Unfortunately, fuel cells are comparatively new, which is why we lack the foundation to facilitate their distribution. Moreover, the technologies that we use in fuel cells are still in the prototype stage. Therefore, we not only require exorbitant financial resources but have a long way to go before developing advanced technology and fully supporting its administration.
You might be wondering, “if fuel cells have so many benefits to offer, then why haven’t they gone mainstream yet?” There are some factors, including the high expenses, which don’t make fuel cells an easy choice. For redox reactions of fuel cells, catalysts are required, which is mostly platinum. Platinum is quite expensive and using it to speed up the reaction can be an expensive affair. Additionally, it requires political inclinations to build the supply and demand chain of fuel cells cost-effectively.
4. Transportation and storage
Since fuel cells lack proper infrastructure, businesses need to spend extra on transportation and storage. And, the complex nature of hydrogen makes the process more difficult. Furthermore, the production of hydrogen areas plays an important role in the cost of transportation. If the hydrogen production facility is nearby to the location where it is used, then it can simplify the process a bit. But, if the facility is farther away, it becomes costly to transport them. Also, there are various factors such as compression, storage, contamination detection, and purification that must be considered.
5. Safety concerns
As mentioned earlier, hydrogen is highly combustible, which can cause safety concerns. Factors like ignition source, oxidant, and fuel need to be considered to prevent danger associated with them. Hydrogen can ignite more, as it has a wide range of flammable concentrations in the air. For these reasons, advanced technology needs to be developed to detect any hydrogen leak. In addition to this, codes and standards need to be followed to distribute and use fuel cells safely.
Fuel cells need a constant flow of water to function properly, which can cause corrosion. If the fuel cell is not properly maintained, it will become difficult to generate electricity. Additionally, the corrosive nature of fuel cells can shorten their lifespan.
7. Limited applications
Fuel cells are mostly used in stationary applications, such as powering homes and businesses. They are also used in the military to provide portable power for on-field soldiers. However, their use is limited in other industries, such as transportation, construction, mining, etc.