Hydrogen fuel cell technology offers a great opportunity to meet the rising demand of energy and for the sustainable development of Pakistan
By Umeed Younis
Hydrogen fuel cell is a new technology which has a huge potential of meeting rising energy demands. The fuel used in fuel cell is hydrogen gas and an oxidant in the form of oxygen is required to generate electricity. Hydrogen gas can be obtained from a number of sources including water, methane, ammonia etc. Direct carbon fuel cell directly uses coal as a fuel source for converting it into electricity. These carbon fuel cells have double the power efficiency when compared with traditional power plants. It will increase the lifespan of coal reserves available in our country by utilizing less coal to generate more output.
Fuel cell is a combustion-free technology and does not need any generator or turbine to obtain electrical energy as it is directly generated as an output. Unlike batteries, it does not require the periodic replacement of electrodes which increases the maintenance cost. The only thing required to obtain energy is the constant supply of fuel and oxygen. The by-product generated at the end of the process is water which is a non-polluting product. Owing to its being environment-friendly fuel cell technology is a very lucrative option for implementation.
Many European nations are striving to prepare unique and exclusive fuel cells to tap renewable energy source. Fuel cell is not a new technology as it dates back two centuries ago. William Robert Grove was the first person to design a fuel cell. The issues which necessitated the invention of a fuel cell were the oil crisis in 1970s and climate change issue in 1990s. NASA has used liquid hydrogen since the 1970s to propel the space shuttle and other rockets into orbit. Hydrogen fuel cells power the shuttle’s electrical systems, producing a clean by-product – pure water, which the crew drinks.
There are many types of fuel cells namely solid oxide fuel cell (SOFCs), microbial fuel cell (MFCs). Much of research is going on to explore ways to obtain energy from MFCs by harnessing the potential of algae and bacteria.
Future of Hydrogen Fuel Cells in Pakistan
Fuel cell technology has given a new edge to automobile industry worldwide. It is an utmost eco-friendly option as there is zero carbon dioxide emission from fuel cell powered cars. The cars powered with fuel cell engine cover double the mileage than today’s cars.
A team from N.E.D University Pakistan made a hydrogen fuel powered car for participation in Shell ECO Marathon 2010 conducted in Malaysia. It is a tricycle with a shell and a load capacity of a single person. More research and efforts like this can make our country stand in the list of nations utilizing renewable energy.
Hydrogen Fuel has a plethora of advantages. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the Universe, which makes up about 3/4 of all matter. Energy content of hydrogen is the highest per unit of weight of any fuel. Along with its effectiveness as a fuel, hydrogen is non-polluting. The only by-product of hydrogen when it burns is heat and water. It will greatly reduce the import of highly expensive oil demands of our country. Fuel cell also has some limitations. The capital cost of fuel cell is high. Degradation of a fuel cell components reduces its performance.
Having mentioned its pros and cons one might argue about its negative aspects. However, fuel cell technology is inevitable due to rising global energy demand. Pakistan should consider this new technology to shift towards using renewable sources of energy. More funds should be allocated for the development of this technology in Pakistan. Fuel cell technology is way too ahead in solving energy crisis. It is time for us to venture into this field to reap its benefits.
The writer, Umeed Younis, is a student at Fatima Jinnah Women University.