5 Hydrogen Fuel Cell Facts for Eco-Friendly Business Owners



Hydrogen fuel cell technology — a clean and reliable alternative to traditional fuel sources like fossil fuels — provides a secure and trustworthy energy solution for power-hungry operations. It’s been used for electric vehicles (EVs), backup power solutions, and commercial and industrial power supply industries. 

To understand the technology’s many business advantages, it helps to lay out the facts. We’ll also explore some ways in which hydrogen fuel cells can be used in the real world.

What Is a Hydrogen Fuel Cell?

A hydrogen fuel cell converts hydrogen’s innate and stored energy into electricity or electrical power through an electrochemical reaction. Hydrogen gas and oxygen combine inside the cell, generating power without combustion. The process produces clean, efficient energy with a byproduct of water and heat.

Three internal components make it all happen: 

  • Anode
  • Cathode
  • A membrane, such as a polymer electrolyte membrane

Hydrogen enters the anode side, while oxygen enters through the cathode side. There’s a paper-thin membrane between them. 

The hydrogen molecules get split into electrons and protons on their side before being passed through the electrolyte membrane. The electrons go through an external circuit, which generates electricity. Meanwhile, the protons migrate through the membrane toward the cathode. The result is a generation of clean electricity, water and heat.

What Are the Benefits of Hydrogen Fuel Cells?

It sounds great, but what’s the catch? Believe it or not, there aren’t many! There are many reasons why a business would want to opt for hydrogen-based power over traditional sources. Namely, it’s a clean, efficient energy source with no emissions. Let’s take a look at some other hydrogen fuel cell facts.

1. They’re Incredibly Efficient

According to the United States Department of Energy, fuel cell systems in vehicles can use up to 60% of the fuel’s energy. Compared to a gasoline engine in your average car, which is less than 20% efficient when it comes to using the fuel to power the car, it’s pretty easy to see just how advantageous that power generation is. Imagine relying on hydrogen power as a go-to or primary source of energy.

Hydrogen is remarkably efficient at producing power under the right conditions because, during the generation process, it directly converts chemical energy — there is no combustion. That means a higher energy output and a much more efficient power solution.

2. They’re Clean and Eco-friendly

While generating energy, hydrogen-based power solutions only produce or emit water vapor and heat. That’s it. It’s a zero-emission power source that does not produce nasty byproducts or harmful pollutants — something you cannot say for traditional fossil fuels. 

And don’t just take our word for it. Material handling dealerships and lift truck manufacturers that utilize hydrogen-based power have touted exceptional zero-emissions and efficiency benefits like super-fast refueling times — three minutes for fuel cells versus 20 minutes to swap lead-acid batteries.

Moreover, hydrogen fuel cells operate quietly, producing almost no noise compared to other renewable sources, and they can be optimally designed to take up minimal space. That makes them perfect for urban, residential, industrial and commercial applications. Fleet-based and vehicle power — or even portable power solutions to access energy in remote locations — are the standout examples here.

3. They’re Ultra-Reliable

As you likely know, traditional batteries lose their charge over time as they go through repeated depletion and recharge cycles or even as they rest. Hydrogen fuel cells do not have that problem and are ultra-reliable. 

Over time, the hydrogen — stored as a liquid or gas — remains ready for use with virtually no loss in efficiency and usability. This makes them a more sustainable option, especially for long-term storage and use. The durability of the cell offers life spans far exceeding those of alternatives. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, they also require minimal maintenance, so once they’re deployed, they’re good to go for a long, long time.

Ultimately, backup power solutions, both off-grid and on, are the ideal situation here. When traditional power is unavailable or fails, thanks to hydrogen installations, the power can stay on. Picture retailers, restaurants and cafes that are still able to serve customers even when the local power is down. Wouldn’t that be something?

4. They Can Be Decentralized

Like solar energy, hydrogen fuel cells operate outside of the traditional grid. Depending on the size of the cell and the system in question, they produce enough energy to retain power in emergency situations and beyond. 

During disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes, essential services can switch to hydrogen-based power and remain online until the standard grid returns. In fact, following the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Japan sped up its hydrogen technology research, and the location now houses the world’s largest hydrogen production facility.

First responders, emergency services, hospitals and critical operations can harness hydrogen power to remain online and active even in dire situations. That alone is worth investing in the technology and ensuring its smooth development and rollout.

5. They’re Versatile

Because the requirements are minimal, hydrogen fuel cells can be used for virtually any application, from transportation and vehicle power to portable power, backup energy solutions and stationary power generation for industrial use. 

They do not require large swaths of land, remain compact and manageable, and can store energy for long periods, perfect for use in remote areas. That also makes hydrogen power solutions enticing for industrial and commercial solutions. It’s a reliable, portable source of backup power that offers limitless potential for a wide range of applications. Need a real-world example? Look no further than BMW’s remarkable Hydrogen Fleet, already on active roadways and breaking records.

The same applications could bolster freedom in off-grid living and travel situations.

It’s Time to Start Thinking Ahead

Hydrogen fuel cells are revolutionary — there’s no doubt about that. However, there are some challenges to be aware of, particularly regarding their widespread adoption. The initial investment into the tech, harnessing production, storage and distribution, is relatively high. Hydrogen-based infrastructure will cost a lot of money, from fueling stations to new, manageable forms for modern applications.

Moreover, hydrogen production — which relies on steam methane — could potentially exacerbate carbon emissions. Harnessing and utilizing hydrogen for energy production does not emit anything, but if it’s going to be a primary renewable energy source, its carbon impact could become concerning. 

In addition, hydrogen is generally associated with flammability, so there are misconceptions that hydrogen fuel cells might be explosive or dangerous. In that case, it’s just a matter of educating and turning public perception by showing how successful the technology truly is.

Fortunately, some great minds are at work looking to optimize and streamline the use of hydrogen fuel cells and hydrogen-based power solutions. Granted, society must collectively plan for a carbon-free future, which means finding reliable, clean alternatives that can reasonably support our power-hungry modern applications. Hydrogen fuel cells very much fit into that picture, and it’s only a matter of time before the technology makes a significant impact.

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