The Fuel Cell
Because fuel cells represent a fairly new way of generating electricity we have chosen to discuss them in detail here, separate and apart from their application in hybrid electric vehicles.
Fuel cells produce electrical current by capturing the electrical energy that can result when certain elemental chemicals are combined to form an essentially new substance. For example, bringing oxygen in contact with hydrogen, within a controlled environment (i.e., within the “fuel cell”) produces electrical energy. The only by-product of this particular process would be H2O or pure water.
cell does not, of course, actually power the vehicle itself. The fuel cell
merely creates a source of on-board electrical energy. This energy must then
either be sent to batteries where it can be stored and/or sent on directly
to an electric motor where it can be converted into mechanical energy, as is
required to turn the wheels.
Though not currently in mass production for vehicles, the fuel cell is an approach worth watching - and perhaps worth waiting for. In theory the fuel cell vehicle comes as close to perfection as any type of hybrid currently under serious consideration. There are no limits as to size, weight, or features on a vehicle equipped with a fuel cell.
|There are even manned fuel-cell-powered aircraft under consideration and unmanned versions currently flying. A properly sized/supplied fuel cell can produce as much electrical energy as may be required, all with zero noise, no moving parts and (depending on the fuel source) possibly zero toxic emissions.|
|Or can it? As with battery-powered electric vehicles, some consideration must always be given to the pollution possibly created in generating the fuel cell’s fuel supply (generally, pure hydrogen and oxygen).|
|An ideal combination from an environmental standpoint then would be a solar powered fuel generator on board a fuel-cell-powered vehicle. This is, in fact, exactly the approach that the unmanned Helios is trying to attain.|
Beyond environmental concerns, other benefits of fuel
cell vehicles include a lack of any mechanical moving parts (besides those
in the electric motor itself). Maintenance costs for a fuel-cell
vehicle should be next to nothing. That said, no reliable estimates are
currently available as to Acquisition and
Operating costs for a fuel cell vehicles.
One final consideration, especially for those who have seen the film of the Hindenburg accident, is how to safely drive around town with a tank of pure hydrogen on board. I’m sure somebody will figure this one out, but hopefully not by trial and error. Point in fact the hydrogen in the blimp merely contributed to that tragedy. Still, if only from a public relations standpoint it didn’t do hydrogen’s image much good.