No doubt because of the current energy shortages on the west coast I’ve been seeing a lot of press lately about fuel cells, and how they are a great source of ‘clean’ electricity.
I understand the basics of fuel cells - put hydrogen and oxygen in, get electricity and water out. Great so far, no nasty pollution.
Oxygen is freely available in the atmosphere. The problem is with the hydrogen. Yes, it’s the most abundant element in the universe, but we don’t have large deposits of it just sitting around. About all we can easily get to (until that routine shuttle to Jupiter comes on line) is already bound to oxygen in the form of water.
I know you can use electricity to crack water into oxygen and hydrogen, but now we’re to the part I don’t understand. If you have to generate the electricity to extract the hydrogen for the fuel cell, how are you generating that electricity? Aren’t you still relying on coal/natural gas/nuclear/whatever?
So how are fuel cells any real answer? If we change all of our automobiles to run on fuel cells and save all the pollution that would have been created from burning gasoline, won’t we in fact just have to burn something else to generate the power to extract the hydrogen in the first place?
So what’s the scoop? Is there another way to get hydrogen? Or are there economies of scale or something that still make it worthwhile to convert automobiles to fuel cells? Or are the news agencies doing there usual job of just skimming the surface of a technology story?