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Question:

I always hear from the industry that hydrogen fuel cells are unrealistic?

All i hear is that we cannot make hydrogen fuel cells a reality because of some technical problems, or it is too expensive.Now i hear that Iceland is going totally fuel cells and they already have hydrogen pumping stations al over the country.Why isn't the US leading the world?

Answer:

First, it is important to note that fuel cells are not a source of energy, they require fuel in the form of hydrogen. Elemental hydrogen is not naturally occurring on Earth and must be made through electrolysis or by reforming hydrocarbon fuels (like petroleum or natural gas) both of which are energy intensive processes. (and fuel reformation emits pollutants) Hydrogen is more energy dense than batteries and fuel cells emit only water so they are interesting from an energy storage and distribution standpoint. Also, fuel cells are inherently expensive (many use platinum catalysts or tricky ceramic manufacturing processes) and the billions of dollars invested in them have done little to make them cheaper. Simply put, there are better ways to do the things people are trying to do with fuel cells. Stirling engines and micro-turbines, for example, are much more practical and can make electricity with far less waste. Hybrid-electric cars are much more efficient on a complete energy cycle basis than fuel cell cars.
Hydrogen is created by electrolysis . Electrolysis requires electricity. Burning the hydrogen created by electrolysis to create electricity will not create enough electricity to create the same amount of hydrogen. There is no free energy. If you want to power a car, an electric car charged off of the power grid would be more efficient than a hydrogen car using hydrogen that was created from electricity off of the power grid. This is because there is less conversion of power from one form to another. Each conversion involves some loss.
The US can and does produce fuel cells just as well as Iceland, and even if it didn't people could just buy them from Iceland if they wanted to. But the hydrogen to fuel them is another matter. Iceland possesses abundant amounts of hydro energy and geothermal energy to produce the hydrogen gas without using coal, oil, natural gas or nuclear energy and has a total country population of only about 300,000 people, about 1000 times less than the US or about the same as Tampa City Florida. I dare say that the US will have hydrogen power for 300,000 people as soon as or even before Iceland does. Then it is a matter of scaling up to serve the other 299,700,000 Americans after that. Since there is not enough hydro energy and geothermal energy in the US (or Iceland either) to serve so many people, something else, probably nuclear, would be needed to produce the hydrogen cleanly.
Hydrogen fuel cells are not quiet what people think they are. It's not like a car battery or niCad. It's actually a generator that burns hydrogen and the heat and light are absorbed by receptors that convert it to electricity. The alloy used in these receptors is, to say the least, expensive and rare. They're used a lot in space craft for two main reasons. One is that the space craft has a hydrogen fuel tank already on it and two, the voltages and amperage's are very low. If you take the size of the unit and the tank necessary to power a house, it would be very impractical. The cell would be the size of a garden shed and tank would be rather large too. In short, Hydrogen fuel cells are still inefficient and far too expensive to be considered a new power source.
There are many reasons. First of all, Iceland uses hydrogen power for largeer industrial settings. They also have more natural fuel sources, like hydro and wind power. It takes energy to remove hydrogen from water so in that vein, you still need an energy source to obtain the hydrogen. Secondly, storing hydrogen is very difficult, as hydrogen is VERY EXPLOSIVE (think Hindenberg) So storing it in your car as a fuel cell is a huge potential danger, transporting it (like trucks transport gasoline) is also dangerous, and we don't have the infrastructure to move it around and store it and sell it to folks like you and me for use in our vehicles. Making small enough hydrogen generators to use in our vehicles to produce the hydrogen needed in the cell is silly. You get a better payoff just using gasoline to begin with. And remember Iceland is a VERY small country. the US is huge, with a lot of political powers pushing and pulling - and industries pushing and pulling for our energy dollars Sure, there are fuel cells that run industrial capacity functions withn hydrogen, but don't be fooled that everyone in Iceland is driving hydrogen powered cars. Heck, I am sure their per capita auto use is MUCH lower than the US (like the rest of the world) other countries learn to use public transport, bicycles and their feet. In the US we are greedy and do everything by auto and fuel cell technology is still too complicated and dangerous for average auto use.

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