The Alliance of Sector Skills Councils

Fuel cells

What are fuels cells?
Revolutionary new boilers are being developed which are powered by fuel cells – devices which convert energy from one form to another.  The cells utilise the properties of hydrogen and oxygen to create electricity, heat and water vapour which is then used to provide heat and electricity.  A thin cluster of fuel cells, about the size of a compact disc, will power the new style domestic boiler as part of a combined heat and power unit.

What are the benefits?
This technology means that the new boilers could produce both heating and electricity, leading to greater fuel efficiency and cost savings for consumers.  Fuel cells are more efficient than conventional internal combustion engines because they convert chemical energy directly into electricity without an intermediary phase.  The cells use hydrogen to generate power using a chemical reaction rather than burning fuel, producing a low level of carbon emissions, making them a much cleaner fuel choice for the planet.  They are clean, quiet and because fuel cells operate at maximum efficiency even at part load and are unaffected by size, they are a particularly good choice for domestic situations.  The fuel cells can be stacked to meet specific power requirements of the property without major system redesigns or capital layout. 

How does it work?
The fuel cell has hydrogen on one side (anode) and oxygen in air on the other (cathode).  A conducting layer is sandwiched in between (electrolyte) and an electrical circuit connects the anode and cathode to produce electrical power using a chemical reaction.

The chemical reaction begins with oxygen from the cathode becoming ionized, generating negatively charged oxygen ions which flow across the electrolyte to the anode, where they combine with positively charged hydrogen ions to release electrons which flow through the electrical circuit to the cathode, generating direct current.
More information
For more information about fuel cells and their developments, visit the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association.

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