The Uses of Fuel Cells

An Alternative Energy Solution

It is a well known fact that fuel cells are a potential alternative to the internal combustion engine. In fact, even though fuel cells are still in their pilot stages of development, many car manufacturers have prototype vehicles that operate on fuel cells. The application of fuel cells is, however, far wider than just a solution for the combustion engine. This article discuses some of their uses and possibilities.

Currently, most major automakers are working to prepare fuel cells for cars. But fuel cells are already being used to power buses, boats, planes, forklifts, scooters, trains, and even bicycles.

Fuel cells are also used to power vending machines, vacuum cleaners, and highway road signs. Small fuel cells are being designed for laptop computers, cellular phones, and other portable electronics devices.

Larger fuel cells are also being used, to provide backup power for hospitals, credit card centers, police stations, and similar large-scale facilities. Waste water treatment plants and landfills make use of fuel cells to capture and convert the methane gas they produce into electricity. Telecommunications companies have started using fuel cells at cell phone, radio, and 911 towers. There is an endless list of applications where fuel cells provide an optimal solution.

Stationary Fuel Cells

Currently, over 2500 fuel cell systems are installed and used around the world – in hospitals, nursing homes, office buildings, hotels, schools, and utility power plants. They are either connected to the electric grid to provide supplemental power, or they serve as backup generators in critical areas where a loss of power could have devastating results. Fuel cells are, however, also being used as grid-independent generators for on-site services in areas not supported by the electrical power grid.

Fuel Cells and Telecommunications

Communication networks, computers, and the Internet are dependent on a reliable power sources. Our current electrical grid suffers from minor glitches and brownouts, and sometimes even blackouts. Fuel cells have a proven record 99.999% reliability. Fuel cells have the capacity to supply power for 1kW to 5kW telecom sites without noise or emissions. They are durable, and they can provide power to remote locations that are not easily accessible and are subject to inclement weather. Such systems can be used to provide either primary or backup power to telecom switch nodes, cell towers, and other electronic systems requiring on-site, direct stable and reliable DC power supply.

Fuel Cells and Industrial Waste

Fuel cells can be set up to capture waste and generate power in landfills, waste water treatment plants, and even in breweries.

In fact, fuel cells are already in use and operate successfully at landfills and waste water treatment plants across the country, capturing waste gasses in the form of methane, to generate power. Not only is this a useful means of utilizing waste products, but it also reduces the environmental impact of such waste gasses, by capturing them and converting them into clean power. Fuel cells use a valid technology for reducing emissions and generating power.

Fuel Cells and Transportation

As covered earlier, most major automotive manufacturers currently have a fuel cell vehicle, either in development, or in testing stages. Some are already leasing and testing in greater numbers of vehicles. We are still waiting for these fuel cell vehicles to hit the commercial market, however analysts expect the first commercial fuel cell vehicles to become available around 2012.

Fuel Cells and Rail-Transport

Due to the fact that fuel cells can be tailored to just about any power output required, fuel cells are now developed for locomotives. An international consortium is developing the world’s largest fuel cell vehicle, a 109 metric-ton, 1 MW locomotive. This locomotive will be used for both military and commercial railway applications.

Fuel Cells and Aviation

Fuel cells could possible be used to power airplanes, and have the benefit of producing no or very minor emissions and produce no noise when operating. They are an attractive option for aviation since they produce zero or low emissions and make barely any sound. This is of particular interest to military applications due to the low noise level, low thermal signature, and ability to attain a high altitude. Boeing is one of the aviation companies which is heavily involved in development of a fuel cell airplane.

Fuel Cells and Portable Power

Due to the versatility of size and the reliability of fuel cells, they can be used to provide power where the electrical grid is not available. The added benefit of low noise and low emissions make this an ideal solution for campsites. Portable fuel cells are can also be used as a reliable source of emergency backup power, both for civil and military applications. They weigh less than conventional batteries and have a much longer lifespan. This is crucial to situations where power needs to be gotten into locations only accessible by foot.

Fuel Cells Micro Power

Fuel cells will change world of telecommunications. They have the capacity to power small electrical devices for far longer than conventional batteries can. It has already been demonstrated that a fuel cell can power cell phones for 30 days without the need to recharge. Laptops have been run for 20 hour at a time on a single fuel cell charge.

By now, you should be able to see that fuel cells have the power to change the world of electrical power supply, and can make our conventional though environmentally harmful batteries redundant.

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