I've had a long-time interest in fuel-cells, and find them to be one of the most promising power technologies for use in homes, commercial sites, electric vehicles, space vehicles, and floating cities that I've yet encountered. They're compact, they're clean, and they're silent.

You don't charge up a fuel cell, like you do with batteries. Thus, there is no long wait-time before using them, as there are with battery-powered electric vehicles. You fill them with a fuel, much as you do an automobile engine. However, the fuel cell doesn't generate heat and force by combustion, it generates heat and electricity via a reverse-hydrolysis reaction.

Hydrolysis is the process by which you split H2O, the water molecule, into its component elements of Hydrogen (H) and Oxygen (O). If you put two wires into water, and run a direct electric current (DC) through them, you will begin to split the water into H ions at one of the wires, and O ions at the other. Bubbles will start to form on each wire, which can be captured for later use.

If you run that reaction in the reverse direction, you would combine the H and O ions to make water (H2O), and you would get some electricity out of it, as well.

This is what a fuel cell does. It takes Hydrogen and Oxygen, and gives you water and electricity. The water is pure, and drinkable. (I think that the fuel cells that power the Space Shuttle feed the excess water into the drinking water supply of the ship.)

If you put a fuel cell into a lighweight electric vehicle, such as a hypercar, you get all of the benefits of an electric vehicle (non-polluting, silent), plus the benefits of refuelling quickly and easily (as is done with current vehicles), without any of the drawbacks of batteries (heavy, limited range, long recharge time). It's a win-win situation.

If you put a fuel cell into a home, you have self-sustaining power generation, self-reliance during storms and power grid outages, and a possible source of income. (In an increasing number of states in the United States, you may sell your excess power to the power companies, so you can get a check from them at the end of the month, instead of the other way around!)

07-20-97 - A mailing list to discuss fuel cells has been formed.

Patrick Salsbury

Last modified: Tuesday, 27-Feb-2001 01:17:34 PST