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THE FUEL CELL



 
     What is a fuel cell? It is an electrochemical device for converting the chemical energy in fuels directly into elecricity.

     Why is it of high interest to scientists today? It can operate with two or three times the efficiency of other fuel-burning power producers. Thus the fuel cell, although not an energy source in itself, could help make our present fuel supply last years longer than expected.

     Many scientists see the fuel cell playing a major role someday in providing electricity for automobiles and homes. Even now, large fuel cell systems are being developed for use as power plants for shopping centers and commuter trains. Small systems have already been used successfully in spacecraft.

     In many ways, the fuel cell is like a battery. It contains no moving parts, is quiet, and wastes no energy as heat. Furthermore, it gives off no fumes. And like a battery, it has electrodes and an electrolyte.

     But unlike a battery, the fuel cell will continue to produce electricity as long as fuel and an oxidant, such as air or oxygen, can be fed to the electrodes. In most batteries, one of the electrodes serves as the fuel and gets used up during operation. The fuel cellís electrodes never get used up. Only the fuel.

     There are several types of fuel cells. Some use hydrogen as a fuel. Others use ammonia, alcohol, or various hydrocarbon fuels. But even though they may work differently, they all achieve the same result: They all produce electricity directly from fuels in an efficient manner.

     Through research, fuel cell power plants could prove to be an environmentally safe yet competitive means of producing electricity in the future.