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Old 05-11-2010, 09:57 PM   #1
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Fuel Cell vs batteries?


Out of curiosity I've been reading up more on fuel cells, but I'm not really understanding the advantage over just having a battery. You need electricity to make the hydrogen to power the fuel cell. So why not just use the electricity directly (with a battery) to power the motor, instead of going through some steps of conversion? From my understanding a fuel cell also needs a steady supply of hydrogen, so it's not like it's more compact.

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Old 05-11-2010, 11:36 PM   #2
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Fuel Cell vs batteries?


Not all fuel cells run on hydrogen.
Plus I think but don't know for sure, that you can get more capacity from a tank of fuel than from just a charged battery. Probably weighs less also.

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Old 05-12-2010, 11:13 AM   #3
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that you can get more capacity from a tank of fuel than from just a charged battery.
Gasoline gives you 20,000 BTU of energy per pound.
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Old 05-12-2010, 11:36 AM   #4
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Fuel Cell vs batteries?


Oh right never considered capacity. A battery will depleat faster then a tank of hydrogen or other gas I'm assuming.
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Old 05-12-2010, 12:06 PM   #5
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Oh right never considered capacity. A battery will depleat faster then a tank of hydrogen or other gas I'm assuming.
Not so much depleat faster, but as Yoyizit was pointing out, a question of energy density. How much energy can you store in something that weights X pounds.

The reason the gasoline engine is still so popular is that you can extract a huge amount of energy out of a relatively small mass of gasoline. A current electrical car running off of batteries requires a huge battery store, and can't go near as far on a "fill-up" as a gas powered car.

The idea behind fuel cells is that you get an energy density closer to that of gasoline but still have the low emissions of an electrical car.

Then there's the aspect that perhaps the electric grid isn't the only source of the energy. While things are still at a research stages, I saw something on PBS several months back where the idea researchers were looking at were fuel cells that could be powered from the sun. The basic idea is to use water filled solar cells on the roof of your house to use the sun's energy to produce the hydrogen to "fill-up" the fuel cell to power your car. Don't expect something out next year, but perhaps some time in our life time...
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Old 05-12-2010, 07:50 PM   #6
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Fuel Cell vs batteries?


There could also be "hydrogen stations" that produce hydrogen to fill up your fuel cell car without having to rely on the grid, because they have solar cells that produce hydrogen through electrolysis. (Someone else mentioned this for a home hydrogen station).

It all depends on what you have an abundance of and what you want to get out of it.

If you have an abundance of hydrogen, and need mechanical energy for a car, you could burn hydrogen in a regular internal combustion engine. Not sure what would be more efficient, a hydrogen fuel cell/electric vehicle, or a hydrogen internal combustion engine.

If you need electricity for your home, it would make more sense to use a hydrogen fuel cell to produce electricity directly than it would to burn hydrogen through an internal combustion generator. But it would also make more sense to just run the house on solar/battery power than it would to use solar panels to make hydrogen to use in a fuel cell to make electricity. But then again, rather than having lots of batteries that wear out, you could have solar cells with additional capacity to power the house during sunny days AND make extra hydrogen to be able to run the house on a fuel cell at night and during cloudy days when the solar cells don't get much sun.

There's a neat new technology that was in the news a few months back called the "Bloom Box" which is kind of like a fuel cell, that it uses a chemical reaction and a membrane to produce electricity directly from lots of different gasses, such as biogas, methane, hydrogen, propane, nat gas, etc. etc. Right now, they are really expensive, upwards of $800,000 But they make LOTS of power. Companies like Wal Mart and Google are using them as supplemental power to run their data centers and stores. The company believes that in a decade or so, the cost and size of the bloom box will shrink to the point where every house will be able to have them. A "Bloom Box" the size of an A/C unit can run an entire house with enough extra power to sell back into the grid, or to charge an electric car.

Of course, they are only zero emissions if they burn something like hydrogen. Burning biogas or methane still produces carbon dioxide.

And with Natural Gas being so cheap in this country, and more nat gas wells being drilled every day in the northeast, this becomes an interesting and promising new way of generating power.

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Old 05-12-2010, 09:43 PM   #7
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Fuel Cell vs batteries?


First time I hear of bloom boxes, sounds interesting. Hopefully they are given a chance before the oil industry buys the rights to make them.
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Old 05-12-2010, 10:28 PM   #8
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First time I hear of bloom boxes, sounds interesting. Hopefully they are given a chance before the oil industry buys the rights to make them.
Haha, good point about the "oil energy buying the rights to make them". Wouldn't that be a low move, buying a whole alternative energy company out so they wouldn't produce an alternative energy product to compete with oil.

<object width="480" height="385"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/rcLq3B8C5sk&hl=en_US&fs=1&"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/rcLq3B8C5sk&hl=en_US&fs=1&" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="480" height="385"></embed></object>

Here's the website of the company. http://www.bloomenergy.com/

And here's the interesting part: The Spec Sheet. http://www.bloomenergy.com/products/data-sheet/

A Bloom box the size of a small shipping container produces 100 kW of power.

I'm not trying to sell the product or anything, but I do think it's neat. I'm fascinated with independent power generation, and I'm sure all of you are as well.

But even if the price and size of these mini fuel cells becomes in the range of the average homeowner, and these become installed in lots of households, it's not going to mean cheap energy for the masses. While Biogas is free or cheap right now, and nat gas is cheap as dirt, literally, the increased demand for these fuels will shift the equillibrium, raising nat gas prices, and creating new markets for what was free bio gas, much the same way we now see a market for bio diesel. Restaurants once had to pay people to take away their grease, but that has changed. We know the rest about that supply chain.

Back to the discussion about fuel cells.

Anyone try to make a fuel cell? Anyone try to make hydrogen using electrolysis?

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Old 05-13-2010, 08:43 AM   #9
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Fuel Cell vs batteries?


I've been wanting to make a fuel cell for fun but anything I find online is basically just showing how to do electrolysis. That I've done, it's fun. Even tried it with straight AC. :o Lots of bubbles. :D
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Old 05-13-2010, 08:54 AM   #10
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Fuel Cell vs batteries?


Ever seen those ads for "Hydrogen range extenders" where you're basically putting a crappy electrolysis chamber under the hood of your car and piping small amounts of hydrogen into the engine? (not enough to increase mileage) "100 MPG for pennies on the dollar!" There's a bunch of youtube videos out there as well. Take your pick.

It would be neat to use your backup generator's reserve capacity to manufacture hydrogen through electrolysis, and then use the hydrogen to extend the runtime. I know the energy consumed to produce the hydrogen would be greater than the hydrogen is able to provide back to the engine.

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