Alternative Energy Presents Problems

In theory, using fuel cells to power vehicles presents a clean burning, energy efficient alternative to fossil fuels.  This technological advancement is not without its current challenges, though, before it can become a realistic choice for consumers.  Foremost among the drawbacks is the cost. Proton exchange membranes, platinum, (a precious metal catalyst) and bipolar plates account for seventy percent of the production costs.To put this in dollars and cents, the total price per kilowatt of fuel cell-generated power is $110 per kilowatt compared to $35 per kilowatt for a fossil fuel-generated equivalent.  Ouch.Stopping and StartingAnother problem is that the membranes used in a fuel cell tend to degrade every time you stop and start the car.  Engine cycles generate different internal temperatures that vary from hot to less hot and then cold.  These cycles are not well tolerated by the membranes which are especially unstable during the hotter cycles.Keep it HydratedMembranes need to stay hydrated in order to sustain the transfer of hydrogen.  That means that if it is really cold outside or really hot, the available humidity is less than what it needs to be for good hydrogen transfer.Function under PressureHydrogen fuel cells function better under pressure.  Currently, the air compression technology is not supportive of fuel cell power requirements under the hood. While this isn’t a reason to can the whole idea, it is cause for further research.Fill’er Up?Where does the average fuel cell owner re-fuel? Adding fuel cell stations and hydrogen generation plants to the existing style of vehicle fuel delivery is a whole new construction project.  Hydrogen must be provided at a sufficient and cost-effective rate to make it a convenient alternative energy source.  Consumers need to be able to see they can count on it.Pit Stop Anyone?Comfort zones are popular. Currently, an average trip between gas stations is about 300 kilometers or approximately 200 miles.  Any fuel that shortens the distance between tanks is not going to engage vehicle owners.Road-Side EmergenciesWho knows how to put out a fuel cell fire?  Re-training and new equipment for emergency response teams, fire fighters and driving instructors are one of the changes to the existing infrastructure that will need to occur before we can insert fuel cells into the automotive industry.Is alternative energy a viable reality or should it be left as science fiction?

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