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+++