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Setra Blog

Aug 22, 2016 5:45:00 AM

What is a Hydrogen Fuel Cell and How Does it Work?

Industry experts are calling hydrogen the fuel of the future. The main reason for that is because the value hydrogen provides in fuel cell applications. Fuel cells are becoming the fundamental piece driving many hydrogen energy applications today. Let’s start by understanding what a fuel cell is and how it works:  

What is a Fuel Cell?

A fuel cell is a device that generates electrical power Picture2.jpgthrough a chemical reaction by converting a fuel (typically hydrogen) into electricity. Although fuel cells and batteries are both considered electrochemical cells and consist of similar structure, fuel cells require a continuous source of fuel and oxygen to run; similar to the engine in an automobile. As long as the inputs are supplied, a fuel cell can run continuously.

How Does it Work?

There are many different types of fuel cells, but essentially they all work and function in the same way. A fuel cell needs three main components to create the chemical reaction: an anode, cathode and electrolyte. First, a hydrogen atom enters the fuel cell at the anode where it becomes ionized (stripped of its electrons), and carrying only a positive charge. Then, oxygen enters the fuel cell at the cathode, where it combines with electrons returning from the electrical circuit and the ionized hydrogen atoms. Next, after the oxygen atom picks up the electrons, it then travels through the electrolyte to combine with the hydrogen ion. The combination of oxygen and the ionized hydrogen serve as the basis for the chemical reaction. The electrolyte permits the appropriate ions to pass between the anode and the cathode. If the electrolyte gave free control for all electrons or ions to pass freely, it would disrupt the chemical reaction. At the end of the process the positively charged hydrogen atoms react with the oxygen to form both water and heat. Within the fuel market there are many different applications with different power requirements. In order to provide adequate power, individual fuel cells can be assembled together forming a stack. A fuel cell stack can be sized for just the right amount of energy for the application.

Where are fuel cells used?
Fuel Cells are used in both stationary and motive power applications for:

- Material handling equipment
- Act as a primary power source for high-volume data centers or commercial, industrial, and residential buildings
- Backup power source to critical computer and communications networks, or to retail stores when power grid goes down
- Generating power on site


CLICK HERE to learn about other hydrogen industrial applications.

Topics: General Industrial OEM, General Industrial, Alternative Fuels

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