Hydrogen Fuel Cells: Industrial Applications and Benefits

Hydrogen Fuel Cells1

With increasing dependency on modern technologies, we find electricity at the heart of industrial processes including powering motors, machinery, types of equipment, and much more. However, the rising demand also resulted in the invention of many new sources of power generation and this is where hydrogen fuel cells come into play. Here is a quick rundown of what they are and how are they used.

What are Hydrogen Fuel Cells?

To put it simply, hydrogen fuel cells act as an electrochemical power generator that combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity. It is a clean form of producing electric energy with only heat and water being the by-products. Electricity is generated through an electrochemical reaction rather than combustion.

Generally, the fuel cell is comprised of an anode, cathode, and an electrolyte membrane. The hydrogen atoms enter the anode while the oxygen is passed through the cathode. At the anode, a catalyst splits the hydrogen molecules into electrons and protons.

This is when the protons pass through the porous electrolyte membrane while the electrons are forced through a circuit that generates the electric current and excess heat. On the other hand, the electrons, oxygen, and protons combine at the cathode to produce water molecules.

Uses of Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Due to their tremendous utility in producing vast amounts of electric power, hydrogen fuel cells can provide energy for virtually limitless applications. This can include but is not limited to emergency backup power, portable power, transportation, and material handling to name a few.

Some other types of hydrogen fuel cell applications also include the likes of :

  • An attractive option for critical load functions such as powering emergency response systems, telecommunication towers, and even military applications for national defence.
  • Global distribution where companies like Hyundai, Kenworth, Nikola, Toyota, and UPS use hydrogen-powered semi-trucks and vans for long-haul trucking and local distribution.
  • Mobile power generation for versatile usage and options with examples like NASA providing electricity for rockets and shuttles in space.
  • Stationary fuel cells that are used as a part of uninterruptible power supply systems provide critical uptime continuously for organizations like data centres and hospitals.
  • Warehouse logistics where dozens of companies with large distribution needs and warehouses use fuel cells to power jacks, forklifts, pallets, and power cleaning trucks.

Benefits of Hydrogen Fuel Cells

It goes without saying that the traditional generation of electric power through the combustion of fossil fuels creates an alarming situation for the environment. The consequences are dire, resulting in phenomena like global warming and contributing to climate change.

On the contrary, the key benefit of hydrogen fuel cells is that it doesn’t produce air pollutants like diesel-powered and gasoline vehicles. Furthermore, it reduces the dependence on petroleum imports since hydrogen can be produced domestically from various sources. Moreover, fuel cells that are powered by hydrogen do not produce greenhouse gas emissions.

Other benefits of using hydrogen fuel cells for industrial applications also include the likes of :

  • As a zero-emission power generator, hydrogen fuel cells eliminate the costs associated with handling and storing toxic materials like battery acid or diesel fuel.
  • Improved efficiency ranges from 40% to 60% energy efficiency according to the US Department of Energy compared to internal combustion engines that are only 25% energy efficient.
  • Improved productivity where hydrogen fuel cells can be put to work and boost warehouse activities by up to 15% providing power for forklifts and extending the mileage range for electric vehicles.
  • Lower operational costs as fuel cells save money by eliminating the need to change, charge and manage batteries as well as reducing labour time during peak power demands.
  • Robust reliability as HFC technology has proven itself against tough conditions including cold environments as low as -40 degrees Celsius and bad weather conditions.
  • Since the only by-products are heat and water, hydrogen fuel cells are often considered a part of some of the many and best well-planned corporate sustainability programs.
  • Unlike a typical battery, the hydrogen fuel cells do not need to be recharged and continuously produce energy with the help of a continuous supply of fuel.

Final Word

National and international organizations including the likes of the US Department of Energy and FCHEA (Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Energy Association) promote fuel cell advantages across a growing number of commercial applications. This partnership is also supported by the Hydrogen Council, a global CEO-led initiative of 132 leading energy, transport, industry, and investment companies with a united and long-term vision to develop the hydrogen economy.

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