Energy and the Environment: As a power technology, fuel cell systems provide a unique combination of features and benefits, making them one of the most environmentally friendly technologies available today. The future world society will represent a standard of living unprecedented in recent history. As any society develops and prospers, clean water and the sophisticated use of energy are both vital elements necessary to ensure economic and social viability. A country’s economic strength is dependent upon the ability to provide efficient and affordable electric power for transportation, the conveniences of home and workplace, and helps to build a strong and healthy societal foundation. As such, fuel cells provide security to a nation and help to provide stability for the national infrastructure.
However, the requirement for energy and economic security must be balanced with the wise management and concern for human, as well as, local and global natural resources. This balance must be combined with an environmental responsibility and a focus on domestic security vs. international dependence. While the world’s appetite for energy continues growing at a rapid rate, it’s evident that managing and securing energy wisely in the 21st Century demands balancing these aforementioned concerns quite differently ( i.e. resources, responsibility, and security).
As stated, the world’s energy appetite grows at alarming rates. However, traditional supplies and resource do not. We are depleting natural finite fossil-fuel resources millions of times faster than they are formed, a situation that cannot continue indefinitely. Solutions must be devised to keep resources and consumption in a sustainable equilibrium. Additionally, we must be concerned about human resources and environmental pollution that naturally occur with the depletion of fossil fuels.
The combustion of fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide (a major greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere, and most climate scientist believe that greenhouse gas buildup is the primary cause of global warming in recent decades. Moreover, many uses of fossil fuels, as well as their extraction from the earth, contribute to air pollution and can cause severe damage to our health and the environment. Responsible stewardship of our planet demands that we find new ways to minimize or eliminate those effects.
Any successful future society must rely on energy that is available when and where it is needed, and is generally affordable at stable prices. Unfortunately, the world supply of plentiful and affordable energy is highly uncertain. As a result, access to critical energy resources is beyond our control. Many planners argue that this situation threatens the economic and military security of dependent nations and urge policies that maximize the use of domestic resources. This is a difficult objective and will likely require many years to address thoroughly.
Meeting these concerns of human and global resources, responsibility, and national security are especially consequential as world-wide consumption trends put increasing pressure on traditional energy sources. For example, worldwide demand is forecast to nearly double by 2030. Much of that growth will be in developing nations—most notably China and India, which between them contain more than one-third of the planet’s people—creating unprecedented competition for limited conventional resources.
Whatever happens, three developments are certain. First, fossil fuels will be a major part of the world’s energy portfolio for decades to come because no single technology will provide all of tomorrow’s energy and because it takes time and money to change the distribution and consumption patterns of large populations. Second, invention and development of more cost-effective, low-carbon energy sources will become progressively more urgent. And third, bringing those new technologies to market in convenient and affordable forms will pose a challenge even more daunting than the research itself.
- Fuel cells have near zero, ultra-low air emissions and provide environmental performance unmatched by any other fuel-consuming technology.
- Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas implicated in global warming. CO2 emissions are reduced by high-efficiency fuel cell power plants. Fuel cells consume less fuel and therefore emit 80% less CO2 per kWh than comparably sized fossil-fuel fired engines or turbines.
- Since there is no combustion in the basic reactions of a fuel cell, Oxide of Nitrogen (NOx) production is essentially zero. Boilers, gas turbines and reciprocating engines produce NOx because of high temperature combustion.
- Fuel cell Sulfur Oxide (SOx) emissions are essentially zero because fuel cells require a fuel treatment system that separates the sulfur out of the fuel before it enters the fuel cell itself. Fuel cells that do not require a reformer, such as those that use hydrogen directly as a fueling option, produce zero SOx emissions.
- Fuel cells using hydrogen fuel emit no Carbon Monoxide (CO) at all. Fuel cells using hydrocarbon fuels may emit small amounts of CO, but the amount emitted is so small that fuel cells meet even the most stringent requirements for emissions of CO, particulates, or reactive gases. Noise Pollution Reduction: Since a fuel cell has no moving parts, it operates silently and reduces noise pollution, unlike a noisy combustion system.