The ebook FEEE - Fundamentals of Electrical Engineering and Electronics is based on material originally written by T.R. Kuphaldt and various co-authors. For more information please read the copyright pages.

Fuel Cell

A fascinating device closely related to primary-cell batteries is the fuel cell, so-called because it harnesses the chemical reaction of combustion to generate an electric current. The process of chemical oxidation (oxygen ionically bonding with other elements) is capable of producing an electron flow between two electrodes just as well as any combination of metals and electrolytes. A fuel cell can be thought of as a battery with an externally supplied chemical energy source.

To date, the most successful fuel cells constructed are those which run on hydrogen and oxygen, although much research has been done on cells using hydrocarbon fuels. While "burning" hydrogen, a fuel cell's only waste byproducts are water and a small amount of heat. When operating on carbon-containing fuels, carbon dioxide is also released as a byproduct. Because the operating temperature of modern fuel cells is far below that of normal combustion, no oxides of nitrogen (NOx) are formed, making it far less polluting, all other factors being equal.

The efficiency of energy conversion in a fuel cell from chemical to electrical far exceeds the theoretical Carnot efficiency limit of any internal-combustion engine, which is an exciting prospect for power generation and hybrid electric automobiles.

Last Update: 2010-11-19