FUEL CELLS & ELECTROLYSERS
A fuel cell is a device that generates electricity through an electrochemical reaction, not combustion. In a fuel cell, hydrogen and oxygen are combined to generate electricity, heat, and water. Fuel cells are used today in a range of applications, from providing power to homes and businesses, keeping critical facilities like hospitals, grocery stores, and data centers up and running, and moving a variety of vehicles including cars, buses, trucks, forklifts, trains, and more.
Fuel cell systems are a clean, efficient, reliable, and quiet source of power. Fuel cells do not need to be periodically recharged like batteries, but instead, continue to produce electricity as long as a fuel source is provided.
A fuel cell is composed of an anode, cathode, and an electrolyte membrane. A typical fuel cell works by passing hydrogen through the anode of a fuel cell and oxygen through the cathode. At the anode site, a platinum-containing catalyst splits the hydrogen molecules into electrons and protons. The protons pass through the porous electrolyte membrane, while the electrons are forced through a circuit, generating an electric current and excess heat. At the cathode, oxygen from the air is disassociated into oxygen ions, via a platinum-containing catalyst, which combine with the protons to produce water molecules. As there are no moving parts, fuel cells operate silently and with extremely high reliability.
Hydrogen can be produced from a large number of primary energy sources and by various technical processes.
Electrolysis is a promising option for hydrogen production from renewable resources. Electrolysis is the process of using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. This reaction takes place in a unit called an electrolyzer. Electrolyzers can range in size from small, appliance-size equipment that is well-suited for small-scale distributed hydrogen production to large-scale, central production facilities that could be tied directly to renewable or other non-greenhouse-gas-emitting forms of electricity production.
Hydrogen production via electrolysis may offer opportunities for synergy with variable power generation, which is characteristic of some renewable energy technologies. For example, though the cost of wind power has continued to drop, the inherent variability of wind is an impediment to the effective use of wind power. Hydrogen fuel and electric power generation could be integrated at a wind farm, allowing flexibility to shift production to best match resource availability with system operational needs and market factors. Also, in times of excess electricity production from wind farms, instead of curtailing the electricity as is commonly done, it is possible to use this excess electricity to produce hydrogen through electrolysis.