Fueling Our Future

Transitioning America

In the daily news, we always hear about how the United States has a dependence on foreign oil.  Is there an alternative available that is suitable for our needs?  As the population of the world continues to increase, there is a growing demand for a more efficient source of fuel in transportation.  Hydrogen fuel cells are a remarkable technological innovation that are suitable to replace our dependence on fossil fuels because hydrogen can be obtained from renewable resources.

Inspiration from Hydrogen Fuel Cells

As a Chemical Engineering student, I am conflicted with how I can find my suitable place in a complex global society.  I have many particular areas of interest with my major, including hydrogen fuel cell technology.  Because hydrogen fuel cell technology has limitless potential, I believe that further research should be done on this subject to promote its use in the world’s transportation sector.  This particular subject-matter has inspired me to study Chemical Engineering because of how it could revolutionize the way we live.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology

Hydrogen fuel cells (or HFCs) are electrochemical devices that convert chemical energy inside of the cell into electrical energy.  This production of electricity can be used to power the vehicle.  In order to be successful, they must be environmentally-friendly and economically efficient to use on a global scale.  A sustainable energy system implementing fuel cells requires that hydrogen should be used as the substance to be converted into a supply of reliable and safe energy.

Mechanism of HFCs

The internal workings of a hydrogen fuel cell are fascinating, yet simplistic.  A series of electrochemical redox reactions create a flow of current, thus powering the vehicle.  Hydrogen fuel is channeled through one side of the fuel cell, while oxygen travels though the other.  As the hydrogen is converted into positively and negatively charged electrons to form a continuous current, the oxygen combines with the hydrogen ions in order to create water, a clean byproduct of the electrochemical reaction.  How can this process be utilized in a vehicle?

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Inner Workings of a Hydrogen Fuel Cell

PEM Fuel Cells

Proton Exchange Membrane or PEM fuel cells are the most suitable fuel cell for transportation systems.  They consist of a polymer electrolyte membrane, which acts as a catalyst to split the hydrogen inside of a fuel cell into its respective ions.  This type of fuel cell is particularly interesting because it operates under low temperatures, which reduces the chance of a flame or heat related issue.  Because they are not corrosive, they are safer to use in electrically powered vehicles.  Hydrogen fuel cells have made large strides in the field of alternative fueling as a result of their versatility and safety.  This is all good news, however, but are there any existing vehicles with this type of technology?

Model E

The Model E fuel cell electric vehicle is an all-electric car that uses a fuel cell and a small battery instead of the conventional internal combustion engine.  What is particularly great about this model is that it has the capability of using a fuel cell stack, in which multiple fuel cells are put in series and parallel in order to increase the voltage and current used throughout the car for power.  Hydrogen is a substance that can be liquefied, which makes it easily storable in a tank where a traditional gasoline tank would be located in a conventional vehicle.  The spectacular nature of this vehicle allows it to regenerate electricity from braking as electricity is sent back to the battery to charge it.  This regenerative breaking technology will save drivers fueling costs in the long run.  This transitioning technology will maximize the electrical output of the vehicle.

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Model E Electric Vehicle

A Hydrogen Economy

Hydrogen is a versatile substance, being implemented in spaceship propulsion systems, as an energy carrier in the transportation sector, and its application in hydrogen fuel cells.  The United States will one day face a severe scarcity of petroleum and oil.  We are obligated to find an alternative fuel source because without it, our nation will not be able to function like it does today.  A hydrogen economy is an economy where hydrogen fueling stations replace gasoline stations, making it convenient industrially and in residential areas for those who have to drive on a daily basis.  Using hydrogen fuel cells is a hope for the future.

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Hydrogen Fueling Station

HFCs:  Innovating our Future

Our nation is facing an economic downturn; hence, it is logical to find a suitable and sustainable energy supply for when our dependence on foreign oil backfires.  If hydrogen fuel cell technology and its infrastructure could be implemented and expanded, our nation could revitalize in both the business sector and the industry.  It could build more jobs all the while protecting the environment.  You could make the change by buying an electric vehicle powered by hydrogen fuel cells in the future when the technology is potentially perfected in both design, cost, and efficiency.  We must embrace and support alternative energy and make our planet a better place to live.

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4 Responses to Fueling Our Future

  1. jaclynckrogh says:

    I know a lot of people get nervous about anything to do with hydrogen, because they automatically think of the disaster of the Hindenburg. You did mention how HFCs are becoming safer, but I think the public will need pretty large proof before they put their trust in hydrogen technology. Do you know if there are any plans to combat the negative stigma?

    • joekuhn93 says:

      I thank you for asking this because your question brings up the concern of the consumers making the change and looking at this technology positively. People are afraid to make a change with anything, literally, especially technology. However, there are not any more risks to using hydrogen in cars particularly because hydrogen may be liquefied and stored in a more robust fuel container, so using hydrogen will not pose any more risks than using the traditional internal combustion engine. Plus, the new electric cars are being built with increasingly safer features than regular cars. What people do not know is that there will be an extreme shortage of petroleum come 2080, where I see that they will more or less be “forced” to change because of the lack of oil and other resources. I see this development being used gradually over time, where gasoline is still being used, but in smaller amounts.

  2. sangmin402 says:

    I always knew that there was some kind of electrical powered car these days but I didn’t know that it was Hydrogen fuel cells. While reading you post, I wandered the cost of producing a hydrogen fuel cell powered car. As you now, today’s car technology is almost based on fossil fuel cars. So to develop a car that can be powered by hydrogen fuel cells will take some time. Do you know if there are other alternative technologies other than the hydrogen fuel cell that can be used in cars that are more convenient and economical?

    • joekuhn93 says:

      Yes, I understand that hydrogen fuel celled cars today are projected to be around $10,000 more than the traditional vehicle. Research is being done to reduce this figure as much as possible to maintain the competitive edge with pricing. These different materials could be made with cheaper yet stronger PVCs, or polyvinyl chlorides, where there are increased safety and efficiency. Also, the electric vehicles you see today are essentially electric vehicles that are hybrid electric vehicles, solar powered vehicles, or battery electric vehicles or all-electric vehicles. These are the more convenient and more economical forms as of today. However, Honda already started producing a fuel cell vehicle (the FCX) in 1999. Since then, I know that in the Los Angeles region and parts of Europe there are hydrogen fueling stations made available. What really makes me excited is that Toyota, Honda, and other major dealerships are projected to release hydrogen fuel celled vehicles even as early as this year, but definitely by 2015.

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