What Is Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology and How Does It Work

What Is Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology and How Does It Work What Is Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology and How Does It Work.
Of the 94 naturally occurring elements on Earth, Hydrogen is the most abundant. For decades scientists have been trying to harness hydrogen as a viable and sustainable fuel source.

Only recently have we truly started to utilize the power and energy that hydrogen has the ability to provide. We are still in the early stages but the future for hydrogen energy is definitely a bright one.

Interested in learning more? Continue reading and we’ll walk you through everything you need to know, from what is hydrogen fuel cell technology to how it actually works.


How an Electric Cell Works

First, let’s go over what a general electric cell is and does. This type of cell is the basis for fuel cell technology.

An electric cell is able to generate electrical power by way of a chemical reaction. It does this by converting its fuel into electricity. In a fuel cell, that fuel can be hydrogen.

In a standard electric cell, a metal such as zinc ionizes one electrode at the anode. This results in an output of two electrons. These electrons are pushed around the circuit and end up carrying energy to something like a motor.

The circuit is then completed when the metal ions move through a solution.

We may no longer have Paris, but we have Minneapolis and 64 other cities in the U.S. The nation's withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord notwithstanding, politicians across the United States are expressing their commitment to renewable energy. In late April, for example, Minneapolis became the 65th city to announce its intent to transition to 100% clean energy, aspiring to complete the transition by 2030. According to the Sierra Club, five cities, including Aspen, Colorado, and Burlington, Vermont, have already achieved their goal of transitioning to 100% renewable energy.

How Fuel Cell Technology Works

Even people who know practically nothing about chemistry will remember from elementary school that the chemical makeup of water is H2O.

Through science, we are able to take water molecules and break them up, splitting the molecule into hydrogen and oxygen. That oxygen is released into the atmosphere but the hydrogen is stored so that it may be used later as fuel.

In a fuel cell, instead of using metals like zinc, we use gasses, such as hydrogen. In order to obtain energy, we need to rejoin oxygen and hydrogen.

Here, hydrogen gives its electrons which flow around the cell, thus driving the motor. They then arrive at a cathode. There, those electrons will recombine with hydrogen.

This all occurs in the presence of the reactive gas, oxygen. Now that oxygen is present, we have the necessary ingredients to once more create water, which is then exhausted out of the vehicle or another machine.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Benefits

Although we don’t necessarily have large-scale hydrogen projects happening in the world at the moment, the potential is definitely there. Luckily, many people are now starting to see the powerful benefits of alternative fueling options.

Blowing away the competition. Coca-Cola and Burlington Northern Santa Fe may be two of Warren Buffett's most well-known investments, but the Oracle of Omaha also represents one of renewable energy's greatest advocates. MidAmerican Energy Company, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, has the long-term goal of providing 100% renewable energy to its customers. Illustrating its prominence in the renewable energy sector, MidAmerican claims on its website that "no other U.S. rate-regulated utility owns more wind-powered generation capacity." And the energy company shows no signs of slowing down its commitment: MidAmerican is currently constructing the 2,000 megawatt Wind XI project, which is expected to be completed in late 2019.

Let’s take a look at some of hydrogen’s biggest benefits and hopefully you will see why it’s a technology worth investing in.

Zero Emissions

Hydrogen fuel cell technology produces virtually zero harmful emissions. The byproduct of hydrogen combustion is usually just heat and water.

With hydrogen as fuel, you eliminate the creation of air pollution and other toxic elements.

With that said, it does take energy to actually obtain the hydrogen fuel. In the process of creating an environment for harnessing hydrogen energy, toxic materials may be used in the process.

Still, many believe that the long term benefits of using clean-burning hydrogen fuel far outweigh the disadvantages.

Improved Efficiency

Your standard combustion engine vehicle only converts about 1/3 of its gasoline input into usable energy.

Hydrogen fuel cells, on the other hand, are generally between 60% and 80% efficient.

Their efficiency would be higher except the electrical energy that they produce must then be converted into mechanical energy, leading to some loss of energy in the process.

Many fuel cell-reliant machines also use what is known as combined heat and power systems (CHP). This means that not only is the hydrogen used for energy but the heat it generates is also captured as energy.

In 2009, renewable sources accounted for about 10 percent of U.S. electricity generation. When renewable


As stated earlier, hydrogen is the most abundant element on earth. In fact, more than 90% of all atoms in the universe are hydrogen atoms.

This makes it an excellent and endless fuel source. Especially when compared to nonrenewable energy such as petroleum.


Most vehicles are very noisy when they are operated. This is because there is actual combustion going on inside them. Many people would consider this part of noise pollution.

Fuel cell energy is created chemically instead of through combustion. This means a near-silent ride.

What is Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology Used For?

Hydrogen fuel cell technology is often used for automobiles. Though it is limited to only a few models today, its popularity is growing.

Hydrogen is also safer than gasoline. Although it is about as flammable, hydrogen gas is so light that if it were to escape, it would very quickly go up into the atmosphere.

One of the drawbacks to hydrogen-fueled vehicles is the lack of hydrogen refueling stations. More of these will need to come about in order for hydrogen cars to seem like a viable option to most Americans.

There may be more than 90,000 MW overall of untapped water potential in the United States; through new hydropower technologies, such as advanced turbines, and new applications, such as tidal, wave, ocean currents, and in-stream hydrokinetic approaches, the industry could double its output over the next 20 years.

NASA also uses hydrogen to fuel its booster rockets. They actually use liquid hydrogen for this.

Hydrogen batteries can fuel portable devices. Unlike regular batteries, a hydrogen one can continue to deliver energy as long as there is a constant input of hydrogen fuel.

Hydrogen batteries can power all sorts of devices from hearing aids to laptops to cameras and cell phones.

Stationary fuel cells, on the other hand, are very large and extremely powerful. They are clean burning and have the ability to power buildings and even towns and cities. This can help us to finally phase out coal.

Hydrogen fuel can also be used for backup power during storms.

The Power of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology

Understanding what is hydrogen fuel cell technology and staying informed is a great way to be aware of new and developing environmental technologies.

Nowadays, there’s a lot of doom and gloom when it comes to the environment and climate change. But having a defeatist attitude won’t help anyone.

That’s why it’s so important to learn and spread information about environmentally friendly fuels such as hydrogen. This way, we can encourage others to do research and help pave a path for a brighter and cleaner future.

A world record was set in 1990 when a solar-powered airplane flew across the United States in stages, using no fuel at all.

Are you interested in learning about what you can do to help? Check Our guides here and find out how you can do your part for mother earth.


Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating / 5. Vote count: