The Future of Fuel Cells
By PR for People News Team
The basic concept of a fuel cell is simple — it converts chemical energy into electricity.
To hear Kent State professor Dr. Yanhai Du tell it, the impact of modern and emerging fuel cell technology is anything but basic. Fuel cells have the potential to deliver on the promise of the elusive cold-fusion theory of the 1990s — clean, super-efficient, affordable energy that could reduce carbon emissions exponentially.
“We have 7.2 billion people in the world, and it’s growing,” Du said. “The more people you have, the more energy you need. What we rely on now is 80 percent fossil fuels.”
Fuel cells may eliminate that problem, using less raw material while generating two-to-three times the energy output. The average United States power grid efficiency is 33 percent, while fuel cell technology can reach 60 to 90 percent, Du said. “American energy consumption includes 45 percent electric energy, and 70 percent of that electricity is generated from fossil fuels, like coal, while 18 percent is nuclear.”
Only 12 percent of American energy comes from renewable sources, he said — mostly hydraulic power, with small contributions from wind (3.5 percent) and solar (0.5 percent).
Du’s work at Kent State University aims to create even more efficient fuel cell technology focusing on fuel cells fed with natural gas, coal gas, biogas, propane, or jet fuel, as opposed to hydrogen — a fuel source for many fuel cell models
Du’s focus doesn’t just lie in research and development, though. For him, teaching the value of the technology is every bit as important.
“Kent State wants to educate our community so they know there is such a technology that will allow us to use fossil fuels as well as renewable fuels to generate electricity to meet our demand while greatly cutting down carbon emissions,” Du said.
The technology is even more promising when paired with basic energy sources that are already clean, like solar or wind power. “A fuel cell is a magic box,” Du said. “If the energy can come from a renewable source like solar, we can greatly improve our potential to reduce our carbon emissions.”
With fuel cell technology an area of international research focus, and Ohio named consistently on recent annual lists of the U.S. Department of Energy’s “Top 5 Fuel Cell States” — along with California, Connecticut, New York and South Carolina — Du’s work may soon put Kent State at the forefront of a critical technology field.