hydrogen fuel cells environmental impacts

5 Hydrogen Fuel Cell Environmental Impacts

Jane Marsh - May 25, 2020

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The movement towards sustainability has taken off around the world. Fossil fuels like natural gas, oil and coal are harmful to the environment, and people are encouraging the use of renewable energy. Hydrogen fuel cells are now entering the eco-friendly scene. From sustainability to production, hydrogen fuel cells offer an alternative to fossil fuels that’s practical and doable. With this change, industries of all kinds — from transportation to manufacturing — can start to incorporate hydrogen fuel cells into their operations. But what are the environmental impacts of hydrogen fuel cells? 

1. Renewability 

A selling factor for any energy source lately is renewability. More individuals and businesses are investing in green resources for their homes or buildings. With hydrogen fuel cells, its composition drives renewability. A fuel cell is a compound that’s a source of fuel. With hydrogen, oxygen bonds with it and can convert chemical energy into electrical energy. This makeup is important because it shows that its composition is naturally occurring, abundant elements — it will only give off heat and water, too.

Hydrogen is everywhere in water, organic material and hydrocarbons. Experts can also be extract it from fossil fuels or biomass. However, its overall renewability will depend on its extraction source. Therefore, water or organic materials will provide a cleaner option. Due to this abundance and clean production, hydrogen fuel cells are a renewable source of energy, reducing the need for harmful fossil fuels that pollute the environment. 

2. Sustainability 

Sustainability and renewability often go hand-in-hand. Sustainability refers to the length of endurance and prolonged environmental impact. Renewability suggests that the resource will continue to be available indefinitely. Part of what makes an energy sustainable is renewability — and vice versa. Hydrogen fuel cells cover both areas. Fuel cells don’t run down or wear out easily. Instead, they can run as long as there are sources for fuel and oxygen. For instance, many new green cars are electric, such as the Hyundai Ioniq, which has a range of 124 miles, and the Tesla Model 3. Also creeping onto the scene are hydrogen fuel cell cars.

When produced by natural gas, these fuel cells could cut CO2 emissions in half. When produced by other sustainable energies, though, it could reduce emissions by a much higher percentage. With their abundance and lower emissions, hydrogen fuel cells are a viable option.

3. Efficiency

Renewability and sustainability measure how environmentally-friendly and abundant an energy source is, but efficiency compares it to other sources to see which can outperform the other. Hydrogen fuel cells are a feasible option because of their efficiency. A car may best exemplify this factor. Many cars that use gasoline average out to around 400 miles per tank of gas. Hydrogen fuel cells, however, are now on par with that statistic. A hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (FCV) can travel up to 400 miles per tank as well. Its sustainability puts it over the top — all considerations combined, hydrogen fuel cells provide more efficiency. The one element that experts in this industry are keeping an eye on is cost. Hydrogen fuel cells tend to be more expensive than standard gasoline. It must decrease for consumers and industry leaders to start investing.

4. Scalability

Another area of environmental impact is the scalability of an energy source. How many devices can hydrogen fuel cells power? Will it work on large-scale production? What about power plants? One of the essential parts of these fuel cells is their versatility. Cars are a significant factor, but everyday appliances and devices are another. Fuel cells could power homes, power plants and commercial buildings. It has the range to cover various scales because of its abundance and high-energy content. From there, it can benefit the environment with more implementation. With natural gas as the most popular option, fossil fuels make up the majority of energy sources in the United States and other countries. With such widespread production, greenhouse gas emissions are increasing. By replacing fossil fuels with sustainable options like hydrogen fuel cells, that pollution can start to decrease. 

5. Production

Production of hydrogen fuel cells has competition. Fossil fuels are certainly one area of concern, butut other sustainable options are viable and ready for use, like solar and wind. In terms of cars, too, electric is sweeping the nation — Uber has required all London drivers to switch to electric vehicles by 2020, for example. Hydrogen fuel cells can stand out, too. For instance, they can theoretically replace any battery, and many standard batteries have toxic substances in them that can harm the environment or water supply. They will save businesses and consumers money as well, as they won’t have to replace or charge batteries as often. Additionally, hydrogen fuel stations are becoming more popular in California and will soon hit the northeast. As it becomes more standard in everyday life, prices will start to decrease. Then, more people can invest in a sustainable future. 

How Hydrogen Fuel Cells Affect the Environment

The future use of hydrogen fuel cells looks bright. The technology has a variety of applications from cars to appliances. Hydrogen fuel cells have positive environmental impacts compared to traditional fuel sources.

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About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.