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FUEL CELLS: A MODERN APPROACH TO A CLEAN ECONOMY

BY VARSHITHA KEDILA

At the University of Southern California, scientists and PhD students in the Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute have been researching a technology that is changing the way many environmentalists approach a clean energy economy: the fuel cell. This scientific development can eliminate the effects caused by carbon emissions, from most prominently, gas fueled vehicles. Today, there are 1 billion motor vehicles in use across the globe which release approximately 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere every year. This ongoing pollution poses several threats revolving around global warming’s effects on our health and environment, including the ozone layer.

Fuel cell research is gaining significant momentum in many chemistry labs across the United States and around the world, having been implemented in various ways to save our environment. With toxic carbon emissions slowly plaguing our atmosphere and causing drastic global warming, this up and coming technology is a beneficial solution to not only our environment but our future generations.

Initially invented in 1839 by physicist William Robert Grove, the fuel cell operates by converting chemical energy from hydrogen, or whichever fuel is employed, into clean electrical energy. One of the many purposes of this energy source is to eradicate the pollution from oil and gas found in many transportation. In the device, the negative electrode(anode) collects the fuel, separating the protons and electrons with the help of a catalyst, such as platinum. The electrons then take an external path that generates electricity, finding its way to the positive electrode(cathode). There it meets the protons, which have travelled through a membrane, and the outside air. Since platinum can be very costly, scientists are in the process of developing alternative components to the fuel cell to procure the best possible electricity generating fuel cell, while reducing complications.

The market has already developed multiple fuel cells, yet, the most typical, a hydrogen fuel cell, is efficient enough to produce energy for devices as small as laptops to as large as commercial trucks. China has already begun adopting the fuel cell technology in their motor companies and investing in companies that produce them. Chinese entrepreneur, Wang Chaoyun, has implemented hydrogen fuel cells in his company, Anhui Mingtian Hydrogen Energy Technology Co.’s, vehicles by inserting fuel cell stacks that convert the energy for the cars without releasing any polluted gas from the tailpipes. Over $1 billion in investments have been accumulated from other Chinese companies for Mingtian and although this corporation no longer exists, it has invested $363 million in an industrial region within Anhui province of China to mass produce fuel cell stacks for other companies. Following in Mingtian’s footsteps, Guangzhou Automobile Group Co. has been receiving supplies of fuel stacks from the industrial park to mass produce hydrogen vehicles that will launch in 2020.

Not only has transportation began using fuel cells in China, but also in the U.S. In 2015, The University of California Irvine launched its very first emission-free hydrogen fuel cell bus in their transportation system for university students. Projects such as these show the success of the ever-changing research behind fuel cell technology and how its real-life application at even a smaller level can impact many lives. Companies, organizations, an environmental agencies should all take into consideration the harmful impacts of oil and gas in inflicting environmental degradation and adopt technologies such as the fuel cell to establish a “hydrogen economy.”

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