Fully Charged: Robert Llewellyn Checks Out how Hydrogen Fuel Cells Work

By : Subscribe to Channelflip's | October 31, 2012 5:19 PM IST


When it comes to electric cars, there's a widely acknowledged belief that hydrogen holds the key to the future. But where does the hydrogen come from, how do we use it, and what will we use it for?

In this episode of Fully Charged, Robert Llewellyn heads to the University of Birmingham to meet with James Courtney from the University's Chemical Engineering department.

Llewellyn discovers exactly how hydrogen fuel cells work and gets an insight from James into the research the University is doing to unearth new ways of producing hydrogen for the generation of electricity. It's not a new technology but recent advances in materials science and hydrogen extraction clearly point to this being a far more common fuel in the future.

There are plenty of problems and the hydrogen debate is always heated and passionate. Without question there has been a lot of misinformation on both sides of this discussion. Indeed it is possible, at an enormous loss in terms of energy put in and what you get out of it. You can strip hydrogen from natural gas, which is where 95 percent of the hydrogen we use now comes from. It's a by-product of chlorine production. It is even possible to get microbes found in pond water.

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There are still so many technical and cost hurdles to overcome before this technology is even remotely widely available. Though the big oil companies are all for hydrogen -they can produce it and sell it to consumers - the only thing that stops them is the fact that the one or two HFC cars that have been built cost millions of dollars each are available only for leasing options.

According to Courtney, domestic hydrogen fuel cells could be used to store locally produced renewable power (from Solar PV or wind) as they are big and heavy and is much cheaper to make.

The beauty of such a system is that you feed electricity and water into it, the electricity splits the water and powers the pumps that compress the resulting hydrogen, then when you need power you run the hydrogen through the fuel cell and electricity is produced.

Share your thoughts on this episode at Twitter @BritishGas, #fullycharged.

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