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Monday, March 10, 2008

Environment-friendly Hydrogen gas as fuel in fuel cell and its challenges:


Environment-friendly Hydrogen gas as fuel in fuel cell and its challenges:

Hydrogen is the simplest and lightest element. Storage is one of the greatest problems for hydrogen. It leaks very easily from container meant for storage, no mater how strong and no matter how well insulated. Therefore, hydrogen in storage tanks always evaporates, at a rate of at least 1.7 percent per day.

Another important property of hydrogen is it is very reactive in nature. When hydrogen gas comes into contact with metal surfaces it decomposes into hydrogen atoms, which are so very small that they can penetrate metal. This causes structural changes that make the metal brittle.

One of the largest problems perhaps hydrogen fuel cell transportation has is its fuel tank size. In gaseous form of hydrogen, a volume of 238,000 litres gas is necessary to replace the same energy capacity of 20 gallons of petrol (gasoline). One option is to compress the gas. Because of gas’s low density property, compressed gas does not give a car as useful a as of gasoline as far as storage volume is concerned. Moreover, a compressed hydrogen fuel tank would be at risk of developing pressure leaks either through accidents or through normal wear and such leaks could result in dangerous explosions.

In case, the hydrogen is liquefied, the liquid hydrogen would give a density of 0.07 grams per cubic centimeter. In that case, it may require almost the four times volume of gasoline for a given amount of energy release. Besides, there are many difficulties in storing liquid hydrogen. Liquid hydrogen is cold enough to freeze air. Accidents may occur from pressure build-ups resulting from plugged valves. Besides, energy costs of liquefying the gas and refrigerating it also to be considered while calculating economy.

Other option may be considered is the use of powdered metals to store the hydrogen in the form of metal hydrides. The volume of stored metal hydrides would be little more than that of the metals themselves; but storing in this form, hydrogen would be far less reactive. However, the weight of the metals will make the storage tank very heavy.

As far as production of hydrogen is concerned, hydrogen does not freely occur in nature in useful quantities. Therefore hydrogen must be split from molecules, either molecules of methane derived from fossil fuels or from water. Currently, most hydrogen is produced by the treatment of methane with steam (the equation is CH4 (g) + H2O + e > 3H2(g) + CO(g)). The CO(g) in this equation is carbon monoxide gas, which is a byproduct of the reaction. Again the production of CO, which converts into CO2 is a greenhouse gas – not environment friendly option. Again, at present we do not have viable technology to obtain hydrogen from water, other than electrolysis – which is not energy saving option.

Therefore, as of now, it is a challenge before us to use hydrogen economically, efficiently and environment-friendly way. As lot research activities are going on in this field, very soon positive favorable result could be seen.

Principle of Hydrogen fuel cell:

The hydrogen fuel cell is an electrochemical energy conversion device. Hydrogen and oxygen are fed into opposite sides of a cell, which are separated by a membrane permeable to hydrogen ions but not electrons. Hydrogen gas molecules entering the anode side of the cell are ionized in the presence of a catalyst to form protons and electrons. The protons pass through the membrane to combine with the oxygen and electrons to produce water at the cathode. The electrons flow through an external circuit from the anode to the cathode, creating an electrical current, which powers an electric load such as a motor.

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