11 Big Advantages and Disadvantages of Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Hydrogen is an environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels, and it can be used to power just about any machine needing energy. The fuel cell, which is the energy conversion device that can capture and use the power of hydrogen effectively is the key to making this happen.

List of Advantages of Hydrogen Fuel Cells

1. It is readily available.
As mentioned earlier, hydrogen is a basic earth element and it’s very abundant. However, it takes a whole lot of time to separate hydrogen gas from its companion substances. While that may be the case, the results produce a powerful clean energy source.

2. It doesn’t produce harmful emissions.
When hydrogen is burned, it doesn’t emit harmful substances. Basically, it reacts to oxygen without burning and the energy it releases can be used to generate electricity used to drive an electric motor. Also, it doesn’t generate carbon dioxide when burnt, not unlike other power sources.

3. It is environmentally friendly.
Hydrogen is a non-toxic substance, which is rare for a fuel source. Others such as nuclear energy, coal and gasoline are either toxic or found in places that have hazardous environments. Because hydrogen is friendly towards the environment, it can be used in ways that other fuels can’t even possibly match.

4. It can be used as fuel in rockets.
Hydrogen is both powerful and efficient. It is enough to provide power for powerful machines such as spaceships. Also, given that it is environmentally friendly, it is a much safer choice compared to other fuel sources. A fun fact: hydrogen is three times as powerful as gasoline and other fossil fuels. This means that it can accomplish more with less.

5. It is fuel-efficient.
Compared to diesel or gas, hydrogen is much more fuel-efficient as it can produce more energy per pound of fuel. This means that if a car is fueled by hydrogen, it can go farther than a vehicle loaded with the same amount of fuel but using a more traditional source of energy.

Hydrogen-powered fuel cells have two or three times the efficiency of traditional combustion technologies. For example, a conventional combustion-based power plant usually generates electricity between 33 to 35 percent efficiency. Hydrogen fuel cells are capable of generating electricity of up to 65 percent efficiency.

Also, a gasoline-powered engine in a conventional car is not as efficient as converting chemical energy into gasoline into power that moves vehicles under normal driving conditions. Vehicles that use hydrogen fuel cells, and also use electric motors, are more efficient as they can use 40 to 60 percent of the fuel’s energy. As a result, there is more than a 50% reduction in fuel consumption.

Plus, fuel cells operate quietly, have fewer moving parts and are well-suited for various kinds of applications.

6. It is renewable.
Hydrogen can be produced again and again, unlike other non-renewable sources of energy. This means that with hydrogen, you get a fuel source that is unlimited. Basically, hydrogen energy can be produced on demand. Also, it is widely available – all that is needed is to break the water molecules so it gets separated from oxygen. It’s without question a time-consuming process but the outcome is great.

List of Disadvantages of Hydrogen Fuel Cells

1. It is expensive.
While widely available, hydrogen is expensive. A good reason for this is that it takes a lot of time to separate the element from others. If the process were really simple, then a lot would have been doing it with relative ease, but it’s not.

Although hydrogen cells are now being used to power hybrid cars, it’s still not a feasible source of fuel for everyone. Until the technology is developed that can make the whole process a lot simpler, then hydrogen energy will continue to be an expensive option.

2. It is difficult to store.
Hydrogen is very hard to move around. When speaking about oil, that element can be sent through pipelines. When discussing coal, that can be easily carried off on the back of trucks. When talking about hydrogen, just moving even small amounts is a very expensive matter. For that reason alone, the transport and storage of such a substance is deemed impractical.

3. It is not easy to replace the existing infrastructure.
Gasoline is still being widely used to this day. And as of the moment, there just isn’t any infrastructure that can support hydrogen as fuel. This is why it becomes highly expensive to just think about replacing gasoline. Also, cars need to be refitted in order to accommodate hydrogen as fuel.

4. It is highly flammable.
Since it is a very powerful source of fuel, hydrogen can be very flammable. In fact, it is on the news frequently for its many risks. Hydrogen gas burns in air at very wide concentrations – between 4 and 75 percent.

5. Fossil fuels are often used to produce it.
Although hydrogen energy is renewable and has a minimal environmental impact, other non-renewable sources such as coal, oil and natural gas are often used to separate it from oxygen. While the point of switching to hydrogen is to get rid of using fossil fuels, fossil fuels are often still used to produce hydrogen fuel. Renewable energy like solar and wind can be used to generate hydrogen energy and is a greener choice.

Capabilities of Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Here’s an overview of what fuel cells are capable of:

  • Stationary fuel cells can be utilized as a backup source of power, power for remote locations, distributed power generation and co-generation.
  • Fuel cells have the capacity to power any portable application that uses batteries – from hand-held devices to portable generators.
  • Fuel cells power transportation such as personal vehicles, trucks, buses and marine vessels; it can also provide auxiliary power to traditional transportation technologies.

As such, hydrogen has an important role in the future as a replacement for imported petroleum used currently in cars and trucks. In fact, several car manufacturers have designed vehicles that run on hydrogen fuel rather than petrol or diesel.

Hydrogen is a basic earth element. The atom is made up of a single proton and a single electron. It’s also very abundant but it can’t exist as a separate form of matter. Rather, it’s combined with other elements.

About the Author
Brandon Miller has a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a seasoned writer who has written over one hundred articles, which have been read by over 500,000 people. If you have any comments or concerns about this blog post, then please contact the Green Garage team here.