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Why would fuel cells be good for the economy?

  1. Jul 24, 2012 #1
    Congratulations, you've created a fuel cell car! Now you need electricity or fossil fuels to create hydrogen to fuel the car. So burn some coal to get electricity. How exactly does this help the environment again?

    What am I missing here?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 25, 2012 #2

    Ryan_m_b

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    I believe the idea is that the efficiency of an electric car is better than that of a fossil fuel vehicle and the fact that national power grids are not totally fossil fuel means that overall less fossil fuels will be needed.
     
  4. Jul 25, 2012 #3

    Chi Meson

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    More specifically, a typical internal combustion engine can turn about 20% of the available chemical potential energy into useful mechanical energy. The possible efficiency of a fuel cell car is somewhere between 40 and 60%. Even if it is the low-end, that's still twice the useful work, or half the necessary fuel, when compared to gas engines.

    When other energy recovery devices are included, such as Peltier junctions or other thermo-electric gizmos, and current hybrid style brake-to-electric-generator technology, the fuel cell car's efficiency is projected to reach as high as 85%.

    An additional benefit, is that the process for extracting H2 from petroleum hydrocarbons is relatively efficient (compared to current gas refining methods--and I think that was a projected efficiency, since the infrastructure for high quantity H2 production is not in place--I can't find a good source right now, and I got to go...)
     
  5. Jul 25, 2012 #4
    How efficient is the power generation at a typical coal power plant? This should be factored in if we are comparing coal--->electricity--->car power with petroleum--->car power.
     
  6. Jul 25, 2012 #5

    russ_watters

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    Something like 65%, but I think depending on our particular priorities we will want to handle the new load of electric vehicles through new pollution free power plants, such as nuclear plants.
     
  7. Jul 25, 2012 #6

    turbo

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    Another thing to consider is if and when we can get substantial renewables on-line (tidal, hydro, wind, solar) hydrogen extraction might become practical without placing a steady load on coal-fired plants.

    Years back, the feds decided to give power companies rebates on fossil fuels (they called it a fuel credit). The result in this area was that Central Maine Power base-loaded with their big oil-fired plant and took swings on the hydro-dams. It was purely a business decision, and bad for the environment.
     
  8. Jul 25, 2012 #7

    etudiant

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    Fuel cells make sense if combined with nuclear to generate the fuels used.
    Burning complex hydrocarbons for fuel as we do at present is a stupidity analogous to burning the furniture to heat the house, one is poorer afterwards that before.
    These wonderful raw materials should be preserved for productive use.
     
  9. Aug 6, 2012 #8
    Yeah, these are good points, but we still have to keep in mind that this will not happen for quite a while because the costs associated with researching, designing, producing, and marketing this kind of car are still going to be pretty high.
     
  10. Aug 6, 2012 #9

    Ryan_m_b

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    The situation isn't as pessimistic as this. Electric, hybrid and fuel cell vehicles are already being sold commercially and are seeing increasing adoption as unit costs lower and performance rises (not to mention increasing costs of fuel both financial and regulatory). I've read articles over recent months about how adoption of such vehicles is predicted to become very significant over the next decade with some commentators even going so far as to suggest a reduction in oil demand for transport in the 20s. Whilst your average electric/hybrid/FC vehicle can't currently compete performance or initial cost wise with a regular vehicle that gap is close enough for niche markets to emerge and new markets to open soon.
     
  11. Aug 7, 2012 #10

    NascentOxygen

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    "Hydrogen is the most common fuel, but hydrocarbons such as natural gas and alcohols like methanol are sometimes used." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_cell
     
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