Fuel Cells- Whatever Those Are.


There are actually several different kinds of fuel cells being used today, ranging from your common alkali fuel cell to your more occasional molten carbonate fuel cell. If you’re like me, then you’re probably thinking, awesome!… what the #$@! is a fuel cell? How did I get stuck researching this one? Well, thank God my mini project for Engineering taught me all about these mystical devices. Basically a fuel cell converts chemical energy into electrical energy that we can use to power whatever. Fuel cells are pretty efficient in doing this which makes them appealing as a power source.  Each type of fuel cell does this in a different way, yet kind of the same way, if that makes sense. I won’t get into the specifics of how each works because I know you are bored to death already, but let me explain  a specific fuel cell and its applications and you might end up thinking these things are pretty cool.

One fuel cell of interest to me is the Direct Methanol Fuel Cell. Direct Methanol Fuel Cells, also known as DMFCs, are a type of proton exchange fuel cell, whose source of fuel is methanol. This type of fuel cell is different from most fuel cells in that most fuel cells use hydrogen as their primary fuel source. Direct Methanol Fuel Cells can only produce a small amount of power, but can sustain that power over a long period of time. For this reason they don’t have any real large scale applications. Common applications of them include cell phones, laptops, cameras, battery packs, and chargers. One application I found particularly interesting for the use of DMFCs was the use of them in construction equipment such as forklifts.  The conventional forklift is powered by a battery pack that can take hours to charge. If the forklift was charged with a DMFC, it would take mere minutes to charge, thus saving time, money, and allowing for more productivity on the job site. Also, military applications are becoming more popular for these cells. Because the cells are relatively small and light, they can be used to power man portable tactical equipment, or act as battery chargers.

Luckily, there are other fuel cells out there with capability to power more than just little things like iphones or laptops. Some of the more powerful ones are being used power to entire buildings, homes, and even cars. The only problem with fuel cells is that they are very expensive, and most of them need to be run at super high temperatures.

I don’t know about you, but I feel informed. This author did a fantastic job explaining fuel cells and found a way to keep it interesting. A+++



Fuel Cell Lecture PowerPoint (Electric Car Mini-project)

Biomass Energy: The Future

The use of biomass as energy goes all the way back to the discovery of fire. Biomass is any form of biological material that comes from living things. From burning wood to animal waste, biomass can be combusted to create energy.

Sugarcane (ethanol) is one of the leading forms of biomass energy in the United States. Currently, most forms of gasoline sold contain 10% cellulose ethanol. During the combustion of ethanol (which is made from sugarcane), heat and energy are released in a form that most vehicles can use. Ethanol does not release as much carbon dioxide and sulfur oxides into the air as do fossil fuels. Many new car dealerships are branding the term “Flex-fuel” vehicles that are able to use up to 85% ethanol (E85) in their engines. The Chevy Impala and the Ford Escape are two examples of cars sold in the United States with Flex Fuel capacities. However, in a recent study, only 10% of owners of Flex-fuel vehicles actually knew that their car could run on ethanol and even less (only 500,000 people in the United States) filled their tanks with E85 fuel on a regular basis. As you drive around today, E85 pumps are rarely available at any gas station. If we are going to further pursue sugarcane and ethanol as a clean energy source, E85 fuel has to be integrated into our society via knowledge and accessibility.


Biodiesel has also become one of the surging forms of biomass energy. Biodiesel can be made from vegetable oil, soy, mustard, palm oil, sunflower, and even algae. Many towns are beginning to use biodiesel engines to power public transportation. One example is the Chittenden County Transportation Authority in Burlington Vermont that runs all of its public busing on biodiesel. At times, Biodiesel is even cheaper per gallon than regular gasoline. Biodiesel is a great way to circumvent high international oil prices while cleaning up the environment. As developments progress in the field of biomass energy, both ethanol and biodiesel use will climb in the future.







By Brendan Mulry

Conserving Energy in Your Own Home

OK. So we’ve talked about green energy practices on a global scale, but you might be wondering what YOU can do to help save energy and non-renewable resources in your own home. Well there’s a ton you can do, and I’ll go over some of them now!

Let’s start with some simple tips, tricks, and habits that won’t take much effort at all:

  • So you’ve probably all heard about unplugging electronics and appliances when not in use. And it’s true; just turning your computer off when you’re not using it can save $75 a year. But it can be inconvenient to unplug everything. So instead, just get a strip with multiple outlets so you can just flip a switch to turn them all off at once!
  • When winter comes, you might be tempted to turn the heat up right away. But if you gradually raise the thermostat, you will save energy, because quickly raising it activates the heat strip, which uses tons of energy.
  • That leads me to the actual ideal temperature on your thermostat. In the winter, during the day set it between 68-70 and at night between 65-68. And if you’re going away for the holidays, leave it at 60.
  • If you use a ceiling fan to help cool off, make sure you turn it off when you leave, because they don’t cool off the room.
  • If you’re going to have to do several loads of laundry, do them consecutively. That way the dryer won’t have to reheat between loads.
  • We all love barbequing during the summer, so here’s an excuse to do it more often. Using the oven during the summer makes the AC work harder, so go outside and use the grill instead.

    This chart shows the most likely places that air can leak from your home. You can save energy by making sure these areas in your home are properly insulated and don’t have leaks.

Here are some bigger things that you can do if you’re willing to spend a little money, or if you’re already having some work done on the house:

  • If you’re having the landscape done, make sure you consider where you are placing the trees. If you plan it right, you can save $100-$250 per year on your energy bill.
  • Do your research and replace the windows with high-performance windows.
  • If you’re replacing the roof, look for a reflective coating and an energy-star label.
  • Install a programmable thermostat
  • Installing solar panels is probably the first thing you think of when you think of a renewable energy source in your home. But there are also smaller wind and hydropower systems that could work on your property. If you are considering installing a renewable energy source to your home, add these to your list of considerations and do some further research to see what the best option for your home is.

I hope some of these tips where helpful! Another great way to see how you stand in terms of home energy use is to use a carbon footprint calculator. There are tons you can find to use, or you can check out http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/ind-calculator.html . This calculator not only shows you your household emissions, but it goes a step further and show you where you can reduce your energy bill and helps you create a plan to do so.

For more tips, check out




By: Kate Dolan

Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy comes from the high temperatures that exist under our earth’s surface. This natural heat can be used in several ways to reduce our reliance on nonrenewable resources. Three of these include using geothermal reservoirs to generate electricity (electric power), using the heat straight from the ground to heat homes and buildings (direct use), and heat pumps. In the U.S., heat pumps can be used in most places, while direct use is available mostly in the west and electric power mostly in Nevada and parts of California. Let’s take a closer look at these options.

When rainwater enters the earth’s surface, it can be heated by the intense heat of the earth’s center and become steam. In some places this steam forms in a layer of permeable, porous rock, but becomes trapped there under a layer of non-permeable rock. This is when a geothermal reservoir forms. We can drill into these reservoirs and build power plants, including dry steam, flash, or binary. The largest single source of geothermal power comes from a dry steam plant at The Geysers in California. Dry steam plants have been being experimented with since 1904 in Italy. The most common type of plant however, is the flash plant. You can see a diagram of a flash plant below. The plants tap into the reservoirs and extract the steam. In dry steam plants, this steam powers the turbines to produce energy. In flash plants, the steam is “flashed,” creating vapor which powers the turbines and the cooled water is returned to the reservoir.

Direct use is available in more places than electric power because it does not require as high a temperature for its reservoir. The reservoir is tapped into and the hot water is pumped out and transported through a system of pipes. This hot water can have several uses, including space heating in small communities or buildings, water heating, and greenhouse heating.

Heat pumps can be used in most places because they do not require geothermal reservoirs, but instead rely on the constant temperature underground. These systems can be used in a home or small office building to either heat or cool the space, and can also provide hot water. A system of pipes is buried below the surface near the home, and is filled with a mixture of water and antifreeze. As the mixture flows through the pipes it either absorbs heat from or gives heat to the ground. The heat pump then transfers the heat or cold to a system of ductwork, which distributes it to the home.

Hydroelectricity: The Future or Destruction?

As the world looks for more renewable energy, scientists have turned towards natural kinetic energy: rivers. In the world there are two types of freshwater hydroelectricity: Hydroelectric dams and Run of the River hydroelectricity. Both have the capacity to power towns, villages, and even cities. But questions still arise about how we can harness this energy with minimal environmental impact.

Advantages of Hydroelectricity: Hydroelectricity does not release any carbon emissions during the production of energy. Hydroelectricity is often very cheap and rates are only 3 cents per kW/hr. The use of dams also creates reservoirs which can serve as recreation. Hydroelectric dams are one of the most efficient and productive renewable energy sources!

Problems with Hydroelectricity: Hydroelectric dams cause many problems in rivers as they disrupt the normal flow of the river. Hydroelectric dams block migrating fish from moving up the rivers. Thus, if the rivers are block the fish from returning up river during the mating season, fish populations rapidly decrease. Dams also cause flooding in many areas since water is prevented from its natural flow. For example, the Three Gorges Dam (the largest hydroelectric dam in the world) in China flooded in 1954 killing 33,000 people and caused the relocation of 18 million more. Hydroelectric Dams also lead to sedimentation and erosion of nearby lands.

All in all, hydroelectricity is definitely a source of energy to be continued and evolved into the future!






By Brendan Mulry