For use with Chapter 22
Cells - Revolutionary Energy
December 7th, 2000
you’ve ever watched the space shuttle take off – or seen old
news footage of a rocket being propelled into space – then
you have seen fuel cells in action. Fuel cells use hydrogen
and oxygen to generate energy. However, until recently, this
sort of energy was so difficult to generate that it was only
worthwhile to use it for a massive task.
cells work by separating two channels with a thin membrane.
One channel contains oxygen, while the other contains hydrogen.
Because oxygen and hydrogen bond so readily, the proton from
hydrogen passes through the membrane to join the oxygen atom.
The electrons left over from hydrogen take the path of least
resistance, which is a wire that connects the two channels.
When electrons travel through this wire, they produce electricity.
fuel cell research has come a long way. In fact, the United
States government has recently approved a bill that will help
fund fuel cell research. The bill, signed into law in October
2000, will give $100 million to develop fuel cells for various
of the most exciting areas of research for fuel cells is for
automobiles. For many years, scientists have recognized that
the internal combustion engines of cars are dangerous for
the environment. Burning gasoline causes pollution, including
the production of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. Fuel
cells, on the other hand, do not pose a pollution problem.
When all you are burning is hydrogen and oxygen, the only
exhaust is water vapor – steam.
cells offer an alternative to cars which use solar power or
batteries. Solar cars have been criticized because of their
limited use if there is no sunlight. And cars that use electric
batteries have several problems as well. First, the batteries
must be recharged after about 50 miles. Plus, the batteries
contain toxic chemicals and do not offer the same power output
as gasoline engines.
of the biggest obstacles for developing alternative fuel sources
for automobiles have been the oil companies. These companies
make a lot of money from selling fuel for automobiles. If
fuel cells become popular, there will need to be a source
of hydrogen fuel. Providing hydrogen fuel instead of gasoline
can maintain a consumer outlet.
prototypes have been developed for fuel-cell powered buses
and golf carts. Eight major automobile companies are currently
developing fuel cell cars in conjunction with the California
Fuel Cell Partnership. While they are not widely marketed
or used by consumers yet, fuel cells may one day be our main
mode of transportation.
Use the sites Internet listed below to investigate how fuel cells work. Put together a presentation and show it to the class, explaining what you have discovered.