Fuel Cells essay

America is in a tailspin because of its energy policy and procedures associated with such a policy. America must police the world in order to ensure a steady supply of oil for the economy. This cause America to become involved in conflicts that normally would not occur if the oil were not present in that country. Alternative energy sources are dramatically needed if America is to maintain any semblance of a top nation in the world.

A look into alternative energy use, environmental benefits for alternative energy, the performance of fuel cells, and the specific infrastructure needed for fuel cell technology will all illustrate why fuel cells are one of the best choices when switching from the internal combustion engine. Analysis Alternative Energy Usage Popularity in America and Examples of Fuel Cell Prototypes Quickly Coming to Market Alternative sources of energy would not be a big topic if the public were not behind them. It is in the power of the people that America can create large strides to becoming independent from oil.

An example of this newfound love for alternative energy can be seen in the acceptance of hybrid technology and an example of a new fuel cell prototype that is exciting to many conservationists. Americans are beginning to understand the severity of the current energy situation. They are beginning to make a switch from internal combustion to other forms of vehicle technology. Millions of “automobile owners [are] choosing hybrid and alternative fuel platforms to promote the greening of the automobile business. ” (Carr-Ruffino & Acheson, 2007, p.

16) In a world consisting of over a billion, a million seems like a sparse figure. However, a million people is a great leap from the small numbers that were switching to other forms of technology in the past. The continual rise of numbers that are seen just in the United States demonstrates how this technology is beginning to make an impact on Americans car purchasing decisions. For instance, it is noted, By 2006, more than 250,000 U. S. drivers had bought Toyota hybrids to reduce oil dependence and help the environment.

Globally, Toyota has reported more than 500,000 hybrid sales to date, and the company’s one million sales target, set for 2010, appears more reachable all the time. The company has cut the extra costs associated with building hybrids almost in half since 1997. (Carr-Ruffino & Acheson, 2007) It appears from the research that the cost is one of the factors that initially caused a slow down in hybrid purchasing. This problem with alternative fuel technology has become less and less an issue through the years as the technology has improved and matured.

It essentially has become more efficient and streamlined in manufacturing, which causes prices to drop and the appeal of the technology to rise. The factors would do little if automotive consumers not consider the product great. An example of the appeal of fuel cell technology can be found in an Australian prototype recently created. Australian researchers Have produced a prototype of a home hydrogen fueling station. It’s the size of a filing cabinet and can run on electricity generated by standard rooftop solar panels or a home wind turbine to turn water into hydrogen gas.

The prototype can power a fuel cell vehicle or a hybrid with an engine converted to run on the hydrogen gas. The vehicle can then cruise for 100 miles per fill-up, producing no pollution. (Carr-Ruffino & Acheson, 2007) An examination of the benefits of that Australian prototype demonstrates the positives that may attract consumers to fuel cell technology. The fueling station is at the person’s house and is small so not much space is taken in the garage. The fuel cell can turn water into hydrogen gas, so a person will not have to spend any money on gasoline from a market.

The car can travel for 100 miles before needing a fill-up, which means less time stopping during a trip. Finally the Australian prototype produces no pollution, which is just an added benefit to the economic and convenience benefits that the consumer would already be appreciating. Environmental Concerns are Why America Should Switch from Internal Combustion to Fuel Cell Technology One of the major concerns for internal combustion power is that it produces pollutants on one hand, and is dependent on oil on the other hand. Pollution production is one negative, but also dependent on oil could be considered another form of pollution.

The creation of gas in a refinery would create pollution as well, so the pollution surrounding internal combustion engines is two-fold. This is why a switch to fuel cell technology is so important to America. Regulation of emissions has become an everyday occurrence in America once the world began to take notice of the pollution that internal combustion causes. This has caused fossil-fuel burning automobiles to become obsolete in a society that cares for and understands the environment. Dealing with the problems associated with oil using technology, researchers have determined

Emissions regulation is the Achilles’ heel of the internal-combustion engine. Carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas, is an unavoidable by-product of fossil fuel combustion, whether the engine uses gasoline, natural gas, or diesel fuel or is an electric hybrid. If the public were convinced of the environmental dangers posed by air pollution and global warming, or of the geopolitical risks of an overreliance on fossil fuels, the technology could be regulated out of existence. The cleaner and quieter fuel cell is far better from an environmental point of view. (Ealey & Mercer, 2002, p.

40) The researchers suggest that it is true that internal combustion provides excess pollution into the environment. The researchers have suggested that possibly fossil fuel burning will possibly become a thing of the past due to excessive regulation that the population currently wants. This opens the door for fuel cell technology to expand into an area never witnessed before in the realm of alternative energy technologies. The research makes it clear that something needs to be done to quell the situation with fossil fuels and possibly fuel cells are the solution.

The Performance of Fuel Cell Automobiles Demonstrate How the Technology Can Compete against the High-Performance of Internal Combustion The popularity of fuel cell technology would not be apparent if the actual car that the technology is in did not run properly or with efficient power. Americans want fast and dependable cars. They do not want a car that can only drive 30 miles per hour and is about the size of a small compact car. Creators of fuel cell technology understand the American consumer, and in this understanding they have decided they should cater to America’s addiction to high-performance in automobiles.

In order to understand the performance of fuel cell technology, a study into how it actually works needs the first introduction. Without an idea of how the technology runs, consumers would have no idea as to what they are purchasing. According to the leaders in the fuel cell market, “at the heart of a typical hydrogen fuel cell lies a proton-exchange-membrane (6) (PEM) stack that electrochemically converts hydrogen and air into electricity and water. ” (Ibid at p. 41) This electricity directly powers the car’s electric motors and accessories. Electricity appears to be the main focus in fuel cell cars.

In an internal combustion automobile the burning of gas creates the energy to run the electrical supplies. However, in a fuel cell powered automobile it is electricity directly that runs the electrical supplies. Fuel cells are more efficient because they generate electric power directly, so they will be “well suited to cars that have increasing numbers of electrically powered features: the 2002 BMW 7 series, for example, has nine temperature-control fans just in the driver’s seat. ” (Ibid) So, the next question is how the fuel cell affects the driving of the car.

If the car were not an efficient yet powerful car then all of the anti-pollution positives would mean very little to the average American driver. Many fuel cell cars contain, “instant-on torque response, less noise, and cheaper maintenance. ” (Ibid) All of these advantages are as compared to internal combustion engines. So, an examination of the inefficiency of the internal combustion engine would be beneficial in discovering the advantages of fuel cell technology. One of the main disadvantages of internal combustion is the inefficiency associated with the model.

For example, the internal combustion engine “drives an alternator to meet a car’s electrical needs and incurs “parasitic” losses in efficiency by mechanically driving accessories such as power steering. “(Ibid) If the engine wastes power on something as small as power steering one can just imagine what other small items the internal combustion engine wastes excess energy. The fuel cell appears to be the clear winner in a head-to-head match-up of performance, stability, efficiency, and cleanliness. Infrastructure Needed for Fuel Cell Technology to Become the Standard in America

Infrastructure is vital for any new technology. When researchers talk about infrastructure and the fuel cell they are mainly talking about stations to fill up, production plants, more variety of automobiles etc. Currently the internal combustion engine has the advantage on infrastructure because it is the dominant concept. So, it is vital that a wide expanding infrastructure be established in order to maintain a market share for fuel cell technology. One of the most obvious infrastructure areas involves stations to refill on hydrogen.

This is a huge drawback for fuel cell technology because basically the industry must start from scratch. Internal combustion has had 100 years head start. The biggest drawback facing the station infrastructure is investment dollars. For example, “building hydrogen storage facilities at filling stations (or the stainless-steel tanks needed for convertible methanol) and manufacturing tankers to supply those stations will require billions of investment dollars. ” (Ibid) The billions of dollars in investment appear to be worth the risk because it will more than likely release America from oil dependence.

It will however take some time, and a possible solution to the investment expense is patience. Experts predict The infrastructure will develop gradually, beginning with large stations for centrally fueled fleets (of city buses, to give one example) and then moving to more dispersed and consumer-friendly locations, while existing gasoline stations are slowly converted to the fuel cell technology and new outlets are constructed to service it. (Ibid) When the station problem is looked from this perspective it appears it is possible to make the switch.

Gradual investment and evolution of current gas stations will help gently ease the population away from internal combustion and into fuel cell. Another problem associated with fuel cell technology is the actual hydrogen gas that is used to power the cells. It should be noted “energy- and emissions-efficient methods of extracting hydrogen from other compounds and of converting it for onboard use remain elusive. “(Ibid) This can be overcome with more research, and the Australian prototype discussed earlier alludes to the possibilities of efficient hydrogen powered vehicles taking over the roads.

A further problem involves the storage of hydrogen, which is a flammable gas, and will require safeguards to protect the public. (Ibid) This problem is not as difficult to solve as others. Petroleum based gasoline is also flammable and there are safeguards for the storage and distribution of the substance. It seems plausible that all of the problems could be fixed. Fuel Cell Space in Cars A further evolving solution to one of the fuel cell drawbacks is the space needed to house the fuel cell in the automobile.

This is an important issue because “the size and weight of the cell affects its performance and utility. ” (Ibid) Many companies are already coming up with a solution to building smaller and more efficient fuel cells that will not hinder performance or utility of the car. This is an appealing aspect to any consumer who is looking for a fuel cell car that does not look like the bulky fuel cell cars of the past. An example of this change is as follows: DaimlerChrysler’s 1994 “concept car” NECAR (New Electric Car) 1 filled the rear of a van, leaving room only for the driver and a single passenger.

Six years later, the NECAR 5 power plant fit neatly within the Mercedes small A-Class engine bay and could power vehicles at speeds greater than 150 kilometers (90 miles) an hour. (Ibid at p. 45) The evolution of the fuel cell is evident. From filling a space of an entire rear of a van to taking up no more room than an internal combustion engine, the fuel cell is finally becoming a viable option for American consumers. Summary America needs to embrace and enhance fuel cell technology and leave behind the internal combustion engine.

The fuel cell provides freer energy, cleaner energy, and energy without involving decisions on foreign policy. The technology is in the country, but it is up to the American people to finally accept the only solution to the country’s energy woes.


Carr-Ruffino, N. , & Acheson, J. (2007, July/August). The Hybrid Phenomenon: High Gas Prices and Shifting Consumer Sentiment Point to Bright Prospects for Hybrid Cars. The Futurist, 41, 16+. Ealey, L. A. , & Mercer, G. A. (2002). Tomorrow’s Cars, Today’s Engines: That Fabulous Invalid the Internal-Combustion Engine Is Very Far from Dead. 40+.