A fuel cell provides energy a lot like a battery does. The advantage of the fuel cell over the battery pack is that as long as it has a steady supply of fuel and oxygen, the fuel cell will not run down and will not have to be recharged. The first fuel cells were developed in 1839. They were used as power generators in the NASA space programs for use on satellites, probes and even space capsules.
Primary and backup power sources for homes, industries and commercial use can be met with the use of fuel cells. Classification of fuel cells is based on the electrolyte that they use. The individual cells are placed in series or parallel circuits to provide the right amount of power for the application, so fuel cells are available in many sizes, depending on the generation of power that the application requires. Fuel cells are used to produce water, electricity, and heat. They produce very little nitrogen dioxide or other emissions, but it depends on the fuel source. Even the cleanest source of fuel combustion produces more emissions than a fuel cell does because the fuel that the cell utilizes is converted by chemistry instead of combustion.
Sources for fuel cells include hydrogen, which is the most common, but they can also be fueled by hydrocarbons. Alcohol, including methanol, and natural gas can be used as the fuel source for the fuel cell. No matter what type of fuel cell is used, they all depend on an anode, cathode and electrolyte to move the charge. As the electrons are drawn through the anode, or negative side, to the cathode, or positive side of the fuel cell, they go through an external circuit. It is here that direct current electricity is produced.
As the demand for a reduction in the dependence of fossil fuels grows, applications for clean energy to power vehicles become more urgent. The use of fuel cells for automobiles, buses, forklifts, airplanes, boats, submarines, bicycles and motorcycles continues to be explored and the accessibility of fuels for the operation of these cells has become a priority.