Fuel Cells in Transportation – Engineering Essay
Is it possible to produce a limitless battery? Since the industrial revolution, a lot of people have looked for an answer to this question, but unfortunately, they have not found it yet. Fuel cell systems can be an opportunity to realize this dream. These systems which
are the most significant batteries of the last years are the electrochemical energy conversion devices that convert hydrogen and oxygen into water, producing electricity and heat in this process. Since around the beginning of the 19th century, a great number of researches have been done about these popular battery systems. Thanks to this, practical fuel cell systems are available for a wide diversity of applications today. Transportation is one of these application areas in which fuel cells can be used. Despite the fact that fuel cells have high initial cost, they provide more benefits in transportation than other fuel systems, because of their environmental advantages, engineering simplicity, and economy.
First of all, zero or low emissions, lack of noise pollution, and no waste of natural resources are the environmental advantages of fuel cell technology that make it attractive. A lot of research done by different scientists supports this fact clearly. For instance, as mentioned in “Fuel Cell Basics: Benefits”, the Energy production systems which are depending on fuel burning are more harmful to Nature than fuel cells (n.d., p. 2), because burning fossil fuels such as gasoline or diesel adds greenhouse gases to the earth’s atmosphere. CO2 is one of these harmful gases which cause greenhouse effect. But, fortunately, the amount of CO2 could be decreased by wide usage of fuel systems, according to source generated fuel (“Fuel Cell Buses”, n.d., p. 1). Furthermore, harmful gases production of fuel cells can be reduced to a minimum relying on the hydrogen production method (“Fuel Cell Buses”, n.d., p. 1). Also, it should certainly be said that, fuel cells prevent noise pollution. “Fuel Cell Benefits”, emphasizes that despite the fact that outer disturbances become effective when driving at high velocities, fuel cell vehicles produce less sound pollution compared to other conventional cars (n.d., p. 2).
In addition to these advantageous features of fuel cell systems, fuel cells can be an opportunity to stop or reduce wasting of natural energy resources. The dependence on fossil fuels such as gasoline can be decreased by usage of Fuel Cells. This assertion is supported in the article “Hydrogen Future Drives Into Big Apple” on page 2 by claiming that using hydrogen as fuel, dramatically decreases the need of petroleum based fuels due to its renewable and limitless source opportunities (n.d). On the other hand, Rose claims that, safe and renewable energy can be obtained from fuel cells due to their effective, modular and wide source opportunity properties (2003, p. 12).
Secondly, appropriate features for engines and engineering applications can be obtained with fuel cells. They exhibit high thermodynamic efficiency, simple operation variety, and high co-generation capability. “Benefits of Fuel Cells in Transportation” points out that fuel cell vehicles, not limited by Carnot Cycle, are expected to achieve energy efficiencies of 40 to 45 percent and very possibly higher (n.d., p. 1). Also, effective responses can be obtained from fuel cells due to uncomplicated reactions (“Fuel Cell Basics: Benefits”, n.d., p. 2). Furthermore, Rose highlights that, lack of productivity can be decreased to level of 13% by using fuel cells in co-generation mode (2003, p. 20).
In addition, Fuel cells, having hydrogen as a source fuel, have many special features for engineering applications. For example, according to “Types of Fuel Cells”, due to having high power density, and low working temperatures, fuel cells can easily give responses to various power demands (n.d., p. 1). Another superior facility of hydrogen is its high diffusivity. Hugely reactive hydrogen’s low density gives it a high diffusivity (“Hydrogen Safety”, n.d., p. 1).
What is more, fuel cells can be used to provide propulsion or auxiliary power for many transportation applications. “Fuel Cells In Use” asserts that, Programs of production of fuel cell cars, due to be exhibited from 2003 to 2006, have been planned by nearly all big auto factories (2004, p. 1). In the same article it is also told that submarines, on the other hand, have been one of these areas in which fuel cell development started early on. Also it is added that, we can apply fuel cell systems for aerospace works (“Fuel Cells In Use”, 2004, p. 1).
Due to many reasons, it is easier to design a fuel cell vehicle than conventional vehicles. In other words, a strong system, more reliable features and motionless parts can be obtained easier. For example, as it stated in “Fuel Cell Technology”, there are “no transmission and distribution losses because of dispersed generation” in fuel cell vehicles (n.d., p. 2). In addition, fuel cells are 99.9999 % reliable way of converting power. (“Fuel Cell Basics: Benefits”, n.d., p. 3). Seperately, “according to Stroash, ‘conventional gasoline tanks are thin and flimsy compared with the robust hydrogen fuel tanks being developed’” (“Alternetive Fuel Tanks”, n.d., p. 1).
Finally, in addition to environmental and engineering advantages fuel cells have lots of economical benefits. These advantages of fuel cells provide them to be related with various applications, especially with buses. But, it seems that the fuel cells are convenient to use in urban transit buses but certainly in time they are going to spread among vans and cars, railways and marine applications. Hörmandinger supports this claim by stating that using fuel cells are very attractive in transportation because of some characteristic properties of buses (1995, p. 38). Also as it mentioned above, due to air pollution, energy efficiency, security and global climate, cars and small vans are another part of fuel cells applications in transportation. When fuel cells are used in these types of vehicles they offer to their owner some economical benefits. For instance, fuel cells decrease the overall price of power generation thanks to having a static structure and less upkeep necessity (“Fuel Cell Technology”, n.d., p. 1). And, to consist of completely motionless parts means fuel cells have low upkeep (“Benefits of Fuel Cells in Transportation”, n.d., p. 2).
In addition to two modes of transportation, urban buses and cars, fuel cells have more application areas such as railways and marine applications. Hörmandinger claims that fuel cell powered trains are more useful in areas wihout electric rail network (1995, p. 72). By this feature of fuel cell, they reduce the overall cost of urban transportation, reducing the usage of electricity. On the other hand, marine aplications are expensive due to some reasons. For example, as Hörmandinger highlighted, submarines serve mainly for military, where costs are less important than that of civil purposes (1995, p. 74). However, using fuel cell provides reducing the cost of the marine applications.
In conclusion, as a result of being useful for our environment, being appropriate for engines and engineering applications and having various economical advantages, compared to other fuel systems, a lot of benefits can be obtained with Fuel Cell Systems in transportation despite their initial cost problems. It is obvious that after the problem of not being affordable is solved by scientists, Fuel Cell Systems will become the most popular battery system of the world. Today, all big companies producing battery systems for different applications are working on Fuel Cell Systems being a good long-term investment for them. In addition to these works, the parliaments of governments should encourage manufacturers to produce Fuel Cells and pass useful laws about using Fuel Cell Systems in different application areas. It should not be forgotten that Fuel Cell Systems are the best solution to the problem of energy production that might be the most important problem of the world.
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