Fuel cells were first invented by a German scientist called Christian Friedrich SchÃ¶nbein in 1838, however the theory was put into practice by a Welsh physicist Sir William Grove. So what are fuels cells and are they the future?
Simply, fuel cells convert hydrogen into electricity through an eletrochemical rection, similar to a conventional battery. However a fuel cell can be continuously “recharged” using hydrogen, or methane or methanol which are rich in hydrogen.
This is all very well, but what does this mean to you?
Well, for a start they’re around twice as efficient as as the good ol’ internal combustion engine. They’re also cooler (in the temperature, not that they’re hip and trendy), have no moving parts and only emit water. This has obvious advantages, even within a few years computers and other portable electronics could possibly run off fuel cells. However replacing petrol engines is a much bigger challenge Despite some dual-fuel (would be snappier if it was duel-fuel, but nevermind) vehicles, such as the BMW Hydrogen 7 being available, it could take 30 years before the price becomes reasonable enough to enter the mainstream.
In the meantime Transport for London have some fuel cell buses on trial, Honda are launching their fuel cell car in the USA and Japan (the 100mph capable FCX), and of course you could just walk. With eight times as many Britons dying from air polluion than from road traffic accidents then they can’t come soon enough.