Q A

How do fuel cells work?

Fuel cells create energy, not by burning, but by an electrochemical reaction between hydrogen, oxygen, and a catalyst. Like a battery, every fuel cell has two electrodes, one positive and one negative. As hydrogen atoms flow between the two electrodes, they are split into a proton and an electron. The freed electron travels through a wire, creating a current. A fuel cell will generate electricity as long as hydrogen is supplied.

Do fuel cells have harmful emissions?

No. The only emissions from fuel cells are clean water and heat.

What fuels can be used in fuel cells?

There are many types of fuel cells. Some run on pure hydrogen, but other types can use fuels such as natural gas, methanol or ethanol. American corn growers are especially interested in developing fuel cells that run on ethanol.

Isn’t hydrogen dangerous?

Many experts consider hydrogen a safer fuel than gasoline. People often associate hydrogen with the Hindenburg fire in 1937; however, it was the zeppelin’s flammable skin that exploded, causing the hydrogen to burn.

How much electricity can fuel cells generate?

Each individual fuel cell produces only a small amount of current. But they can be combined in clusters or stacks to produce any amount of electricity. Byproduct heat can also be harnessed for power. Fuel cells are remarkably efficient, converting up to 80 percent of their fuel into electricity. That is two to three times more fuel-efficient than conventional power plants or internal combustion engines.

When will fuel cells be widely available to consumers?

Fuel cells for portable electronic devices like laptops will be on the market within a few years, according to industry experts. Other consumer goods, such as fuel cell vehicles, are still decades away from commercialization. Fuel cell buses are being tested in several states. President Bush has set a national goal to develop a fuel cell car by 2020.

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