Fuel cells (Generating and storing energy)
Fossil fuels do not only pollute the environment, they are also likely to run out in the not too distant future. Hydrogen could be a good alternative: it is abundantly available and actually offers the perspective of allowing significant reductions in CO2 emissions.
The mixture of hydrogen with oxygen results in the production of energy with the only by-product being water. Fuel cells are power plants where this reaction happens. They could be used to power the environmentally friendly car of the future; doing away with the problem of exhaust gases and replace them with pure water! We might soon be able to commute to work of travel to our favorite holiday destination knowing that the environment stands to benefit.
Such fuel cells also offer the potential to be much more economical and efficient compared to traditional combustion engines and will significantly cut the dependence of our economy on oil and other fossil fuels.
Fuel cells are like electrical batteries which continuously charge themselves, if fed by fuel. There are still plenty of practical barriers to large scale commercial use but the future is promising.
DID YOU KNOW
Umicore is investing in power plants?
Umicore focuses on the development of electro-catalyst materials for use in fuel cells which trigger the chemical reaction of hydrogen with oxygen. To that end Umicore joined forces with Solvay in 2006. Our SolviCore joint-venture develops the ‘heart’ of the fuel cell, the reactor where hydrogen reacts with oxygen. The fuel cell operates likes a miniature power plant.
Hydrogen (H2) enters the ‘negative’ side of the fuel cell stack, while oxygen (O2) enters the ‘positive’ side. Both sides are separated by a membrane covered with the (precious) metals-based catalyst material, which causes hydrogen to split into positively-charged protons and negatively-charged electrons. The electrons are not able to pass through the membrane and need to travel to the other side via an external channel, creating electricity along the way (the movement of negatively-charged electrons). At the ‘positive’ side of the fuel cell, oxygen, assisted by the catalyst material, receives the hydrogen protons, creating water (H20) as end product.