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All About Fuel Cells & Alternative Fuel Vehicles
Andrea Glass

The history of the fuel cell can be traced back to the 19th century. Since then the development and usage of fuel cells in a variety of applications have come a long way. Fuel cells hold great promise for fueling alternative fuel vehicles. Here is some of the history of the development of fuel cells:

* William Grove invented the fuel cell in 1839.

* General Electric invented proton exchange membrane fuel cells in the 1950s

* Francis Bacon demonstrated a 5kW alkaline fuel cell in 1959.

* NASA's use of fuel cells during the Apollo space missions in the 1960s was the first commercial use of fuel cells.

* Alkaline fuel cells have flown over 100 missions and operated for more than 80,000 hours in spacecrafts operated by NASA.

* The US Navy has been using fuel cells in submarines since the 1980s

* Fuel cell buses are running in several cities around the world, the largest being the European Union backed CUTE project (Clean Urban Transport for Europe).

* All major automakers have prototypes of alternative fuel vehicles using fuel cells on the road-some have already been leased to customers.

* Iceland has plans to convert its fishing fleet from diesel engines to hydrogen fuel cells as part of a national project to create a fossil fuel free economy

* Several car manufacturers are hoping to produce their first semi-commercial models of fuel cell cars by 2005, yet they will most probably not be mass produced until 2010.

* Numerous fuel cell products will be coming to market-portable direct methanol fuel cells will power mobile phones, laptops and cameras in the near future

* A fuel cell is around 60% efficient at converting fuel to power, double the efficiency of an internal combustion gas engine-which makes it perfect for alternative fuel vehicles.

Fuel cells have several advantages over conventional power sources like internal combustion gas engines or batteries. Additionally, there are disadvantages facing manufacturers hoping to commercialize fuel cells. See how they stack up as the next best fuel for alternative fuel vehicles.

Advantages

* Fuel cells reduce pollution that is caused by the burning of fossil fuels-their only by-product is water

* If the hydrogen used in the fuel cell comes from the electrolysis of water, then using fuel cells will eliminate greenhouse gases

* Because fuel cells don't need conventional fuels like oil or gas, they eliminate economic dependence on politically unstable countries

* Since hydrogen can be manufactured anywhere there is water and electricity, production of potential fuel can be allocated in various areas

* Fuel cells operate at a higher efficiency than diesel or gas engines which makes them an ideal source of efficient power for alternative fuel vehicles

* Most fuel cells operate silently, while internal combustion engines do not

* Fuel cells can operate for longer times than batteries, therefore to double the operating time, only the fuel needs to be doubled and not the capacity of the unit itself

* The maintenance of fuel cells is relatively straightforward since there are few moving parts in the system

Disadvantages

* Energizing fuel cells continues to be a major problem while production, transportation, distribution and storage of hydrogen remains difficult

* Reforming hydrocarbons via a reformer to produce hydrogen is technically challenging and not actually environmentally friendly

* The refuelling and the starting time of fuel cell vehicles are longer, while the driving range is shorter than in a conventional vehicle

* Fuel cells are normally somewhat larger than comparable batteries or engines, however, the size of the units continues to decrease with research and testing

* Fuel cells are currently expensive to produce, since most units are hand-made and some use expensive materials

* The technology is not yet fully developed, therefore few products are readily available

Although hydrogen fuel cells appear to be the most promising source of alternative fuel, other sources are being researched and tested. Alternative transportation fuels provide economic advantages while also offering significant environmental benefits. They offer air quality advantages through reduced emissions and some fuels produce less greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline. There's significant research being conducted worldwide. Canada, for example, is recognized as a world leader in the development and use of alternative transportation fuels with more than 170,000 alternative fuel vehicles in use across Canada. Some of the most promising alternative fuel sources being suggested for future use in motor vehicles are:

* Ethanol * Propane
* Natural gas
* Biodiesel
* Electricity
* Hydrogen

At this point, it's anyone's guess what the future holds for alternative fuel vehicles.

2004 AllAboutHybridCars.com and Andrea Susan Glass. Any reproduction of this article in any manner is prohibited without the consent of AllAboutHybridCars.com. We give permission to use this article on your website or e-zine if you reproduce it exactly as it appears here including this notice. Visit http://www.AllAboutHybridCars.com/eBook.htm to order your FREE report, 7 Critical Facts Everyone should Know Before Buying a Hybrid Car.





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Hybrid Car Acronyms and Definitions:
  • Forced Auto Stop - A Forced Auto Stop is a fuel saving technique whereby the engine (ICE) is shut down while the vehicle is still in motion.
  • MPG - Acronym which means Miles Per Gallon. It is how far your car can travel on one gallon of fuel.
  • Renewable energy (sources) or RES - capture their energy from existing flows of energy, from on-going natural processes, such as sunshine, wind, flowing water, biological processes, and geothermal heat flows.
  • Full Hybrid - Hybrid which does ALL of the following: Shuts off the engine at lights and in stop and go traffic, uses regenerative braking and operates above 60V, uses an electric motor to assist a conventional internal combustion engine and can drive at times using only the electric motor.
  • D-FAS - Draft Assisted Forced Auto Stop.

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