10 Advantages and Disadvantages of Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Car manufacturers are starting to come up with hydrogen-powered cars. This technology is said to be the solution for a greener air and environment. Today, there are vehicles running on hydrogen fuel cells while this abundant element, hydrogen is also used to produce electricity.

First invented in 1838 and then later used by NASA to power space shuttles and rockets, a fuel cell uses fuel source and either air or water to produce electricity. This can be used to provide electrical energy for buildings and other structures. Since it has many uses, it is being considered as a power source for the future. Despite its benefits, there are also negative effects that are apparent with the use of hydrogen fuel cells. Let us discuss about the two sides of this energy source.

List of Advantages of Hydrogen Fuel Cells

1. Carbon-emission Free
Advocates for the use of hydrogen fuel cells posit that unlike other sources of power, these fuel cells do not emit harmful carbon emissions in the air that cause pollution and affect global warming. Although the chemical process involves burning hydrogen, it emits water, heat and other emissions but not carbon. The chemical reaction between hydrogen and water does not produce pollution but instead, releases electricity to be used in various applications.

2. Accessible and Clean
One of the advantages of using hydrogen as an energy source is its being readily available. Since it is considered the simplest elements, its supply in the atmosphere is abundant. And although it might take time to break down the compounds and separate them, its being plentiful and easily accessible make up for the time it takes to complete the process. Moreover, the end-result is a clean and powerful source of energy.

3. Importance in Science and Technology
Hydrogen fuel cells have many applications and are being used by industries, machinery, motorcycles, automobiles and NASA. Hydrogen fuel is used to launch space shuttles, making it a significant factor in science and technology. In fact, NASA has been using hydrogen gas for decades and had used fuel cells as an alternative energy source along other fuel cell types such as methane and hydrogen peroxide. Being a non-toxic substance and environment friendly, it has many uses as opposed to other fuel types.

4. Renewable Energy Source
Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. Consequently, it becomes one of the renewable sources of energy like solar energy coming from the sun. Unlike limited energy sources like fossil fuels and nuclear energy reserves, energy coming from hydrogen becomes a very practical and significant alternative energy.

5. Fuel Efficiency
Due to the fact that hydrogen is capable of producing more energy per pound of fuel as compared to gas and diesel, it becomes more fuel efficient. Cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells can run more miles than automobiles that run using gas and solar-powered vehicles. When it comes to combustion technologies, plants that are powered by conventional combustion methods only produce about 33 to 35 percent of energy. Conversely, when hydrogen fuel cells are used in manufacturing plants, electricity produced can reach up to 65 percent. Moreover, fuel consumption is cut down to 50% with the use of fuel cells. This is because cars using hydrogen cells only use 40% to 60% of the energy generated by the fuel as well as operate quietly and less moving parts.

List of Disadvantages of Hydrogen Fuel Cells

1. Nitrogen Dioxide Emission
Critics of hydrogen fuel cells argue that although these cells do not emit carbon after burning, they give out nitrogen dioxide and other emissions. Nitrogen dioxide is a toxic gas and can still be harmful when ingested by humans. Experts say talk about the risks of respiratory problems such as lung edema from exposure with lethal dose even for a short period of time. Moreover, it can also decrease lung function.

2. Storage Issues
Apart from taking much time to separate the compounds of hydrogen, this element is also a challenge to move and transport. Compared to oil which can be channeled through pipelines and coal which can be moved to one location to another using trucks, transporting hydrogen can be expensive. This is one obvious setback of this element since storage and transport can be considered impractical.

3. High Cost
Aside from having to spend a lot of money to transport hydrogen, the time it takes to break down its elements makes the process expensive as well. This is also one of the reasons why hybrid cars are also costly. As long as no other options are applied to make the process faster and easier, hydrogen as fuel cells will remain to be pricey. Additionally, most cars being manufactured are still powered with conventional energy source like gas and diesel. Converting these already manufactured cars into hydrogen-powered vehicles will require a lot of work and money.

4. Highly Flammable
Skeptics have expressed concerns on the safety of using hydrogen fuel cells in cars and other applications because of the fear of explosion especially in higher concentrations. Although scientists have tested it several times, they do not rule out that this element is flammable. In case of fire, hydrogen flame is not seen in daylight, making it dangerous for fire fighters who will respond to the incident. This concern is also placed on liquid hydrogen. Being colorless and odorless, inhalation and ingestion is possible without being noticed and if this happens, asphyxiation can happen to people who are in an area without proper or no ventilation.

5. Climate Change Aggravation
People who are not in favor of using hydrogen as energy source point out that even if it can come from oil and water, it also comes from fossil fuels, particularly in industrial applications. As a result, carbon dioxide is also emitted in the air and makes global warming worse. Despite being renewable, it still needs fossil fuels to be transformed to hydrogen fuel.

Technology is indeed a boon to mankind and the invention of hydrogen fuel cells is one of the indications. However, there are also setbacks to using this alternative energy source. Perhaps, with continuous research, the number of its advantages can outweigh its disadvantages.