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Fuel Cells

A fuel cell is an electrochemical energy conversion device that uses hydrogen or other fuels to produce electricity, water, and heat.

A fuel cell operates much like a battery, but, unlike a battery, it doesn't consume electrode material or require electrical recharging. In fact, a fuel cell can generate power almost indefinitely, as long as fuel is supplied. Plus, a fuel cell can be scaled to power everything from cell phones to automobiles to entire buildings.

Conversion Process

The basic structure of a fuel cell consists of an electrolyte layer in contact with an anode and a cathode.

Typically, fuel is fed continuously to the anode and an oxidant (e.g., oxygen from air) is fed continuously to the cathode. The electrolyte layer acts as a one-way door, allowing either positive or negative ions to travel across, but not electrons, forcing electrons to travel through the external circuit (electric current). This resulting electric current can be used to power electrical appliances.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell

A hydrogen fuel cell electrochemically combines hydrogen and oxygen to generate electricity, water and heat. There are no other emissions. Different types of fuel cells use different electrolytes with different electrochemical reactions occurring, but the overall reaction is the same.

How a Fuel Cell WorksHow a Fuel Cell Works.
See how a fuel cell works to power automobiles.

Requires QuickTime

Video note: The division of Ballard which produces fuel cells for automotive applications became the Automotive Fuel Cell Cooperative in 2007.  Ballard Power currently focuses on fuel cells for portable and stationary power.

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