Hydrogen fuel cells are among the cleanest energy sources today, and they are increasingly used by many people to power up their vehicles. Actually, they now serve as an alternative fuel to automobile technology, converting hydrogen into electricity to charge the batteries. Other than those using hydrogen, there are other categories, including phosphoric acid (PACF), molten carbonate (MCFC), proton exchange membrane (PEM), alkaline fuel cells (AFC) and solid oxide cells (SOFC).
With a focus on just hydrogen fuel cells, the technology certainly comes with many benefits. However, it also comes with certain disadvantages. The pros and cons of hydrogen fuel cells are very interesting information, especially for people who are always using them and even for those who are planning to do the same. Here are some, if not all, of them.
List of Pros of Hydrogen Fuel Cells
1. They allow for efficient conversion to electricity.
Compared to other electricity-generating technologies, hydrogen fuel cells are capable of efficiently converting the fuel into electricity as it does not involve combustion.
2. They require no re-charging.
Hydrogen fuel cells do not need to be re-charged because the fuel requirements are simple. Instantaneous power can just be generated even in a remote location as long as there is an un-interrupted supply of the element.
3. They are highly useful.
For some people who are traveling at short distances, they choose to use hydrogen fuel cells to power up their vehicles, rather than the fuel supplied by gasoline stations.
4. They are extremely reliable.
The various components of hydrogen fuel cells, including the control, pump and fan, are stacked properly. Therefore, the technology is reliable to use.
5. They are safe.
Since they are carbon-free (hydrogen fuel cells are typically composed of hydrogen, of course), you will never have any reason to worry about their safety. Also, they do not contain harmful chemicals that may cause harm to human health.
6. They do not degrade.
Hydrogen fuel cells are capable of providing a continuous source of reliable electricity, unlike their traditional battery counterparts.
7. They are very convenient to use.
One great advantage of hydrogen fuel cells is that they are also suitable for residential, transportation and portable use. You can expect high efficiency rates from them regardless of scale.
8. They are clean and efficient at any size.
Because of this fact, the technology can be located almost anywhere, including dense urban communities where both transmission congestion and air quality may be an issue. Also, distributed application of these small fuel cells can enhance security of key infrastructures, such as water and communication systems.
9. They are eco-friendly.
These fuel cells are completely clean as a form of energy. By using hydrogen as fuel, these cells produce no emission of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, and run on a sustainable and renewable source. This is a huge advantage over gas-powered forklift batteries or lead-acid batteries, which contain corrosive acids and heavy metals that contribute to carbon emissions.
10. They are flexible and easy to install.
Hydrogen fuel cells are seen as an economical solution to the increased demand for more reliable energy sources that are flexible and easy to install, thus making the whole process more affordable for consumers.
11. They are a good choice for alternative fuel.
Aside from being commonly used by people as alternative fuel for travelling short distances, hydrogen fuel cells can also work efficiently with the batteries and other components of a vehicle on a quiet and safe manner.
12. They help decrease global warming.
Because they do not involve combustion, these cells help prevent global warming. They do not contain elements that promote environmental pollution.
13. They require only simple maintenance.
Considering their design and features, these cells can just be easily maintained.
14. They are small and compact.
Unlike traditional batteries that run on internal combustion, hydrogen fuel cells are small and compact, thus they can fit conveniently in systems, such as fuel reformers and power inverters, which have space constraints.
15. They do not create noise.
Unlike traditional batteries that are used in industries and vehicles that create sound pollution, fuel cells are silent. Considering this attribute and their heightened efficiency, they are very much in use these days in electrical systems in residential areas and automobiles.
16. They help reduce economic dependence of a certain country.
Hydrogen fuel cells offer great benefits, such as being an alternative to building new power lines, while also reducing dependence on foreign oil. they can provide more reliable power wherever electricity is needed, which makes the entire electric power grid more reliable and robust.
17. They have an abundant source of energy.
Hydrogen is a resource that is more plentiful compared to gasoline that is derived from oil, which in turn is a limited resource. On the other hand, hydrogen can be found in many natural resources, like water, that are infinite. This means the use of the fuel cells can be forever.
List of Cons of Hydrogen Fuel Cells
1. They are extremely expensive.
Initially, hydrogen fuel cells are extremely expensive to manufacture. However, just like other new technologies, their costs would come down to price levels that are affordable by normal consumers with mass production. Now, we are in a transition period, where many fuel cell manufacturers are investing literally hundreds of millions of dollars in gearing up for mass manufacturing and, at the same time, trying to develop a variety of markets for such products. Though these cells’ price is seen as a great disadvantage, things are changing now.
2. They can just be used in short-distance travels.
As these power sources do not contain a high level of fuel, you can just use them for a while to nearby destinations.
3. They lack supply as of the moment, and coast-to-coast delivery is unavailable.
Currently, there is yet no hydrogen infrastructure that can supply coast-to-coast delivery of hydrogen fuel. Other technologies are being developed in order to provide alternative fuel storage and delivery methods, such as SOFCs, MCFCs and PAFCs that can internally reform natural gas, providing the perfect solution for industrial use. However, MCFCs and PAFCs are too large for homes and transportations use, and SOFCs still take long to further develop.
For PEMs and AFCs, they can use fuel reformers to convert hydrocarbons, such as natural gas and gasoline, into hydrogen, but this technology is seen to lessen the overall efficiency of the fuel cells, though they still release small amounts of pollutants. Also, on-board fuel storage and conversion solutions are in the process of development, but they still require many years to be perfected.
4. They are inappropriate for some battery brands.
At times, these fuel cells do not work well with some brands of batteries, making them inconvenient to use.
5. They cannot be implemented right away.
As previously stated, it would take many years in order to perfect these cells’ conversion solutions, since developing newer fuel cell technologies are still in the transition period.
6. They are sensitive to changes in temperature.
The polymer exchange membranes that are used in hydrogen fuel cells are not capable of operating at temperatures greater than 100 degrees Celsius. High-temperature tolerance is a requisite for these power sources to also increase their tolerance to impurities. With this said, durability is a factor that needs to be worked upon, as currently they tend to degrade while used in very hot processes.
7. They use a complex infrastructure.
The major issue with hydrogen fuel cells is the infrastructure involved in their creation. They run on hydrogen, and the fueling stations, pipelines, truck transport and hydrogen generation plants are way too complex and costly.
8. They cannot be stored conveniently.
Vehicles powered by hydrogen are safe for the environment, but certain parameters, such as storage, costs incurred in vehicle infrastructure, vehicle weight and safety measures, might still be in the works. Also, their supply needs to be replenished continuously for them to work.
9. They lack durability.
As previously mentioned, hydrogen fuel cells are incredibly sensitive to high temperatures and contamination from outside elements, which means that they would easily overheat, break down and malfunction than other battery technologies.
Before considering to use hydrogen fuel cells, it is important to weigh their pros and cons. Advanced technologies can greatly help with developing flexible, sustainable, efficient and portable alternative energy sources, and the fuel cell industry has been around for quite some time now. However, due to the immense cost it entails, not many industries and companies are willing to take the chance.
So, if you are really interested in using hydrogen fuel cells, you must first do some evaluations of your needs and requirements. From there, you can then calculate the costs that you might need to spend and the potential benefits that you are going to gain. Weigh the good points and the drawbacks of using this young technology before making the final choice.
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.