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Do fuel cell systems offer a feasible alternative to combustion engines in minimizing the harmful emissions of transport vehicles?

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Extended Essay: Do fuel cell systems offer a feasible alternative to combustion engines in minimizing the harmful emissions of transport vehicles? By Paanii Ansah-Kofi Homeroom: 12A Subject: Design Technology Candidate no.: D 0114 006 Session: May 2004 Contents 1. Abstract. 3 2. Introduction. 4 2.1. Vehicle Emission Standards 5 3. Background. 6 4. Principle of the Fuel Cell System. 7 4.1. Generating Electricity with Hydrogen + Oxygen 8 4.2. Other Fuels for Running Fuel Cells 8 5. Comparison of Fuel Cell with Combustion Engine. 10 5.1. Efficiency 10 5.2. Mileage 10 5.3. Safety 11 5.4. Cost 11 6. Introducing Fuel Cell Vehicles. 12 6.1. Question of Reformers 13 6.2. The PEM Fuel Cell 14 7. Fuel Cells in Today's Consumer Vehicles. 15 8. Conclusion. 16 References/Bibliography. 17 Extended Essay: Do fuel cell systems offer a feasible alternative to combustion engines in minimizing the harmful emissions of transport vehicles? 1. Abstract. A general awareness is growing that present-day cars are polluting the environment in a critical way and that it may at some time be crucial to develop and integrate significantly cleaner alternatives into road transport to preserve the delicate conditions of our planet. This task brings not only the problems of making them fuel efficient but also the problems of making them equal some of today's most influential machines in a variety of aspects. While we have seen the developments of other high-efficiency vehicles, we have yet to find one that really appeals to our daily transportation needs in large cities. This essay looks at one of the more promising alternatives to the combustion engine that has been developed amid such concerns: the fuel cell system. It poses the question whether we may eventually see this technology become the alternative and bring down the emissions that occur due to driving. By drawing on several sources of information and statistics, it outlines the different features that may contribute to the future of fuel cell systems in transport, and more specifically in fuel cell vehicles. ...read more.


Due to such concerns some have focused their developments towards enabling fuel cells to do just this. The fuels to be used are categorized within the so-called hydrocarbon and alcohol groups. Manufacturers are considering fuel cells that function on propane, natural gas or methanol. Their use in fuel cells is explained by their hydrogen content and how practical they are in being handled and distributed. Apart from that, more problems with the storage of hydrogen would be alleviated because of an increased energy per unit volume (like in the case of liquid hydrogen). These alternative fuels are mainly being considered for the fuelling of fuel cell vehicles because of the perceived difficulties of also handling pure hydrogen. Propane and natural gas for instance have been used as heating and cooking fuels in many households, meaning that living in a house with this supply would enable one to refuel using one's own gas pipe. Apart from these fuels, methanol as a liquid fuel has similar properties to the gasoline fuel used in cars, meaning that it would be as easy to transport and distribute through filling stations. Using fuels that are not so radically different from what we use daily would help boost confidence in this technology. Alternative fuels also has a slight disadvantage when it comes to functionality and . To be able to run on these alternative fuels the fuel cells need a "reformer", which must extract this hydrogen from the fuels. Reformers are sometimes thought to be important in making fuel cell technology successful, because it allows for alternative power sources. However, they generate more heat and emit some amount of carbon dioxide apart from hydrogen, which ends up decreasing the efficiency of a fuel cell. Furthermore, the system becomes more complex and more expensive to build and service. Fuel cells, then, are capable of running on hydrogen rich fuels that may be more readily available, but as they must do so through reformers, it is achieved at the cost of efficiency and being clean. ...read more.


A conventional car battery is also used to operate some of the car's electrical system and store energy recovered from regenerative braking technology. The end product would be that it performs much like the Ford Taurus, only more efficient and, an underlying factor, more ecologically safe; having 35 less horsepower it is also 40 percent lighter and can so match the Taurus' performance. 8. Conclusion. Many features of fuel cell systems suggest that they would make adequate alternatives to combustion engines. This success in road transport is mainly due to their efficiency, their relatively high performance in comparison to other highly efficient non-combustion vehicles and their use for public transport. It has to be said though that their potential to make an impact on human transportation is hindered by other shortcomings that make it difficult to choose an FCV over a conventional, high performance car. I believe the prospects of future FCVs look good, when one considers the capabilities that these developments can foretell. At the same it is difficult to predict, simply on a technological basis, how they would fare in replacing present-day cars to reduce emissions. FCVs are arguably one of the most anticipated technologies for the future auto industry. In my study, fuel cell systems have definitely shown the potential to change the experience and effects of driving in the next one to two decades. However, they may not offer a feasible alternative within the next two years mainly because their technologies would still have to gain the appreciation of whole societies before its benefits are realized. At the moment fuel cell systems may seem radically new and unfamiliarity with them might even put people off at first. Still, having been in use for a while by research organizations such as NASA they have, at least, gained the confidence of a select few after their functions in space shuttles. If such a confidence grew, fuel cells in FCVs may have a positive impact on vehicular emissions as an alternative to combustion engines. ...read more.

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