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Advantages and Disadvantages of Fuel Cells & Applications

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Advantages Disadvantages of Fuel Cells

As climate issues gain momentum, people and governments all around the world are growing more and more concerned each day. Countries all over are considering cleaner and sustainable sources of power. The faster adoption of renewable technologies, electric vehicles are big examples in this regard. Another technology that is gaining traction worldwide is fuel cell technology. Fuel Cell technology uses hydrogen and oxygen to make water and in the process also generate electricity. It is much like a battery but does not require any external charging. It is capable of producing electricity as long as fuel and oxygen are supplied. A hydrogen fuel cell is compact and lightweight.

Applications of Fuel Cells

Fuel cell technology is finding increasing applications. These are being used as power generators in commercial, industrial and residential places, especially in remote locations and portable power systems. Fuel cells can also operate in conjunction with gas from landfills or waste-water treatment plants to generate power.

Fuel cells are being used essentially in the vehicle industry. Large automobile companies like Honda, Toyota, Hyundai have been introducing fuel cell vehicles in the mainstream market. In fact, fuel cell buses are successfully running on the roads of Canada, USA, Germany, China, England and Brazil.

fuel-cell-vehicle

A Fuel Cell Vehicle

They are also used in large numbers in forklifts which are trucks used to lift and transport heavy materials/ things inside factories. Well-known companies like Sysco Foods, FedEx, Coco-Cola, Kimberly Clark, and Whole Foods have deployed fuel cell fleet. Since fuel cells do not generate harmful emission and are not noisy, unlike petrol/ diesel powered vehicles, fuel cell forklifts are being used increasingly.

Also read, Advantages  and Disadvantages of:

Oil

Coal

Renewable Energy

Advantages of Fuel Cells

i) High efficiency – Most fuel cells are 60%-80% energy efficient. However, this efficiency can increase to 85%, when these fuel cells are used in a cogeneration system.

ii) Clean – Fuel cells work with little to no emissions, the only byproducts being electricity, heat and water. They are thus, much cleaner than traditional power generation, producing 97% less nitrogen oxide emissions than the thermal power plants.

iii) Scalable – can be stacked onto one another

iv) No Noise – More silent in operation when compared to the conventional sources of power generators. There are no moving parts in a fuel cell stack, making them quieter.

v) Low Maintenance – Though the initial cost is higher, fuel cell technology does not involve much maintenance. Fuel cells do not degrade over time, unlike batteries, and can, therefore, provide electricity continuously.

Disadvantages of Fuel Cells

The fuel cell technology has failed to gain much popularity and some have reasons to believe that they might not become economically competitive with other clean technologies. One of the major criticism of this technology is the challenge in production, transportation, flammability and storage of hydrogen gas, which is the main constituent in the fuel cells.

Though the technology has been around three decades now, still much work/ research is yet to be done. As such, the technology is still costly to use. Moreover, critics argue that fossil fuel is still needed to separate hydrogen and oxygen atoms. The fuel cell technology would not be viable if there was no fossil fuel. However, one may still argue that the amount of fossil fuel used will be way lesser than what is used in the conventional vehicles. Lack of proper infrastructure in the form of recharging stations also stunts the growth of fuel cell vehicles. The absence of proper hydrogen infrastructure to supply hydrogen fuel is a major disadvantage too.

Conclusion

One of the biggest advantages of using fuel cells is that they will produce less than one ounce of pollutants compared to 25 pounds generated by conventional combustion systems (for every 1,000 kWh produced). When manufactured on a large scale, fuel cells could save 20–40% on energy costs (especially when used in cogeneration systems).

The technology is still clean and pollution free but has failed to gain the necessary momentum. Its application in the form of forklifts is the most striking for me, where people could be saved from harmful emissions from traditional fuel-based lifters in closed environment.

PG

Sneha Shah

I am Sneha, the Editor-in-chief for the Blog. We would be glad to receive suggestions, inputs & comments on GWI from you guys to keep it going! You can contact me for consultancy/trade inquires by writing an email to greensneha@yahoo.in

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