The Future of the Fuel Cell
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The Future of the Fuel Cell

Fictional story of the future of the fuel cell

The year is 2040. We still don’t have flying cars, but as we approach the middle of the first century of the new millennium, the technology available to the average person would make any late 20th century tech-head green with jealousy. The average person now wields such computer power that it makes those antique desktop and laptop computers you used back in the early 2000’s seem like bear skins and stone knives. Yes, we have made great technological strides for our time. Life is good in the 21st century. But, by far the greatest technological and ecological contribution to man was the development of the fuel cell.

It all started way back in the early half of the 19th century when in 1839, Sir William Grove introduced the first fuel cell. Back then, it was largely considered to be no more than a novelty. Later, in the 1970’s amidst a perceived oil shortage, the fuel cell technology was revisited. But the oil ‘shortage’ was short lived and development on the fuel cell waned as a technology that was too expensive to be feasible. But by the 1990’s, interest in fuel cells was rekindled. Partly due to environmental concerns of green house gases being released from the use of fossil fuels, and partly because of the uncontrolled rise of oil and its effects on world economies and state security of the developed nations. By about 2015, it was becoming obvious that the industrialized world was moving away from a hydrocarbon economy to a hydrogen economy, all thanks to the fuel cell.

It started with autos. Due to certain government mandates and demand by the public, the first consumer fuel cells showed up in our cars and were so well received, the only gasoline-powered cars still around here in 2040 are in museums and private collections. With the proliferation of fuel cell technology in cars, their production costs decreased and their durability and energy output increased. This paved the way for the next great advancement in fuel cells, the introduction to the home as a primary power source.

Japan it turned out though, became a pioneer in developing fuel cells for home use. In fact, by 2020, one quarter of all homes in Japan were powered by fuel cells. Advancements in conductive elements and the development of substances like ‘nanomaterials’, oxide crystals that are 1/5000th the width of a human hair, made fuel cells cheap to buy and even cheaper to operate.

Once in our homes, the technology really took off and now our cell phones, computers, digital cameras and other small devices all run on fuel cells. And, the technology has become so inexpensive and easy to operate that developing nations and third world countries around the planet are now beginning to benefit from this renewable and portable power source.

If you would like a good read on the specifics of fuel cell technology from someone of your own time, I would suggest you take a look at this interesting article by Jerry Walch. https://knoji.com/residential-fuel-cells-an-alternative-power-source/. Cheap power for my car and home, massive reduction in industrial waste from air-born pollutants and portable power for those in need. As I said before, life is good in the 21st century. But I would still like to have a flying car.

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Comments (4)

A flying car in every garage. How would we license them? What would the qualification be for getting a license to pilot a flying car? Ultra lights are almost qualifications free so maybe a license similar to that issued to "Sports Pilots" which is slightly easier to get then a regular private pilots license? We'd need to develop some special ATC (Air Traffic Control) system to handle the airborne gridlock problems. I enjoyed your time machine approach and thanks for the link back.

olmo tomas mezger

Hi,

I have recently had a conversation with a veteran in the energy economy. We talked about renewables and how they will become acclaimed by society (read more here: http://bit.ly/9EWksC). In fact, all green techs will, i hope.

The only problem with hydrogen is the fact that is is not cheap and it will never be. Of course, you can imagine every house with PV on the roof, producing electricity, even at times nobody needs it. What to do with this electricity? Some people tell me: Easy, let's produce hydrogen, and use it after that for electricity in fuel cells... but the fact is, that batteries are cheaper than a electrolyser+fuel cell.

Of course, FC-Tech is going to be cheaper, but batteries as well. Not only the electric cars are coming into the market generating more demand for batteries (what leads to more competition and lower prices), but also in consumer electronics everything has a battery and this segment will continue to grow.

I see the beginning of the FC tech somewhere near 2030 to 2040, as range extenders for EVs, but I don't think we will have a large market penetration at this time.

Thank you

Olmo

P Clary

Here's a few startling facts that could help push us towards energy independence and strengthen our energy industry and ultimately our economy.

If Americans are worried about the cost of hydrogen energy and infrastructure look no further than the National Research Council’s estimates. They estimated that supplying fuel for 1 million FC vehicles through 2025 would cost $8 Billion over 16 years, or $0.5 billion/yr, meanwhile the government invests $3 billion a year in battery research and infrastructure alone. If that costs scares you, then understand that annually it costs our economy and government $160 BILLION for the existing petroleum infrastructure.

Also, Reports from McKinsey and Company have issued detailed analysis of alternative vehicles for the EU and they estimated that FCEVs would cost less to own and operate (that includes the costs for infrastructure) than Battery Electric Vehicles or plug in hybrid electric vehicles. Further, an MIT-Haywood study concluded that current fuel cell technology are on average, cost competitive. They command only a $3600 premium over internal combustion engines and a mere $700 over current hybrids. Meanwhile a 30 mile plug in electric vehicle was shown to command a $4300 premium over an ICE or hybrid, and a 200 mile plug in EV had a $10,000 premium. The US Department of Energy has also demonstrated with research that over the past decade fuel cell technology has dropped from $275/kwhr to $51/kwhr, with projections for sub $30/kwhr by 2015. It is true that batteries are going to play an important role and likely to be a companion to fuel cell technology. However, I think that the introduction of fuel cell vehicles in 2015 and the shift to hydrogen energy will eventually make this article look ahead of its time.

Brianna

In response to Olmo. The cost of fuel cells is actually declining steadily, particularly for cars where prices have fallen 80% since 2002. We can also produce hydrogen now at as cheap as $3 per gallon of gas equivalent, and the US Department of Energy is well on its way to reaching its goal of hydrogen at $2-$3 per gas gallon equivalent by 2015. A recent MaKinsey study showed it will actually be cheaper to own and operate fuel cell vehicles then electric vehicles by 2030, including infrastructure costs. Car manufactures are saying they will have commercial fuel cell vehicles on the road by 2015. While I’m not sure we will get to where this article predicts by 2040 we are not all that far off.

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