Proton Exchange Membranes
Recently, the renewable energy issue is becoming significant all over the world due to increasing power demand, instability of the rising oil prices and environmental problems caused by humans. Among the various renewable energy sources, fuel cell technology has received great attention as an alternative to the conventional way of getting energy due to its high efficiency, clean operation and cost efficient supply of power demanded by the consumers. Proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells technology plays a leading role for many applications when comparing with other competitive types of fuel cells. The world is in high demand for clean alternative fuel source and PEM fuel cells could be that change with a little bit more research. The very first known form of a fuel cell was made in 1839 but it was not a practical fuel cell, the first practical fuel cell was not made until one hundred and ten years later in the 1950’s. A fuel cell is an electrochemical converter that takes the chemical energy of a fuel and converts it directly into DC electricity. A fuel cell is similar to a battery in that it has electrodes and an electrolyte, but it needs a fuel and oxidant supply to run, and produces a waste of heat and water. PEM fuel cells use the air as their fuel. They take in the hydrogen and the oxygen to produce the energy. PEM fuel cells were invented in the early 1960’s and used in early Gemini space missions but were later replaced by alkaline batteries. They were also used in a few Apollo space missions as well but were not used in any general public opportunities due to cost until the early 1990’s but even then they were still very expensive. Today PEM fuel cells are still underdeveloped for the amount of time they have been around and still cost too much for the amount of weight to power. The scalability of PEM fuel cells allows for a wide range of power outputs from a few milliwatts, up to millions of watts. The four main applications depending on power output are: transportation, stationary, backup power, and portable power. PEM fuel cells were not used in cars until the 1990’s mainly for hybrid and electric vehicles but they were also used in motorcycles, bikes and the main transportation they were used in are forklifts. Stationary PEM fuel cells have been used at Water works, gas suppliers, and telecommunication equipment. They are also used in backup applications in hospitals, houses, warehouses, and many other buildings. Today’s hybrids already get stunning gas mileage at an average of 45-65mpg (Yalcinoz 1935). This is a much high number compared to most current combustion engines. Hybrid vehicles have the potential to help the environment not only is the reduction of emissions but also saving fossil fuels. Hybrids reduce the use of gas and emissions and even save you money. We as a whole need to further the development of these hybrid vehicles and make them even more fuel efficient so we can help our environment and save fossil fuels. Also the benefit of getting better fuel efficiency is the increase in the demand for hybrid vehicles, which should drive car companies and alternative energy companies to further discover better technology. Currently the main problem with PEM fuel cells is the way that they are being made. The production of PEM fuel cells is still using fossil fuels which are not good because they are supposed to be replacing them. Atilla Ersoz a member of TUBITAK Marmara Research Centre, Energy Systems & Environmental Research Institute says that “Natural gas appears as the best fuel for hydrogen rich gas production due to its favorable composition from lower molecular weight compounds (68).” In order for fuel cells to really be an effective alternative fuel they need to find a new way to make them not using fossil fuels. At this point in time PEM fuel cells are not truly fulfilling the goal of reducing harmful emissions because of how they are made.
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