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Fuel Cell

Definition - What does Fuel Cell mean?

A fuel cell is a device that converts chemical energy into electricity. It consists of an electrolyte and two electrodes. It generates electricity by means of chemical reactions occurring at the electrodes. The electrolyte carries electrically charged particles from one electrode, thus producing electricity. A chemical catalyst may be used to speed up the chemical reaction in the cell. It produces electricity without combustion and is hence less polluting.

Techopedia explains Fuel Cell

The fuel cell was first devised by Sir William Grove in 1839. William Grove postulated that by reversing the electrolysis process, electricity and water could be produced.

Fuel cells produce electricity by making use of chemical energy generated through a chemical reaction between positively charged ions and an oxidizing agent. They consist of an electrolyte and two electrodes. The positively charged electrode is called the anode and the negatively charged electrode is called the cathode.

A fuel cell converts the chemical energy of the reaction between charged hydrogen and oxygen ions into electricity. Two chemical reactions occur in the fuel cell at the respective electrodes:

  • At the anode, the catalyst oxidizes the fuel and splits it into positive and negative ions. The positive ions pass through the electrolyte while the electrons pass through the external circuit.
  • At the cathode, the ions combine with the electrons and react with oxygen to create water or carbon dioxide.

As the result of the reactions, fuel is consumed, either water or carbon dioxide is created as the byproduct and electric current is created. The positively charged hydrogen cells move between the two electrodes to create a flow of electricity which is directed outside the cell to provide electricity. The electric power created is known as the load. As long there is a flow of chemicals into the cell, it never goes dead, unlike conventional batteries which require recharging after a while.

There are several types of fuel cells, including:

  • Polymer exchange membrane fuel cell
  • Solid oxide fuel cell
  • Alkaline fuel cell
  • Molten-carbonate fuel cell
  • Phosphoric acid fuel cell
  • Direct-methanol fuel cell
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