University of Washington
Undergraduate Fuel Cell Research
|What is a fuel Cell?||Hydrogen Safety Fuel Cell FAQ's|
|Fuel Cells can be thought of as
continuously recharging batteries. Both batteries and fuel cells operate by using a chemical
reaction to produce electricity. However, unlike a battery the fuel
cell uses a fuel like gasoline to run continuously.
The University of Washington concentrates its work on Proton Exchange Membrane fuel cells (PEM fuel cells).
The basic operation of the PEM fuel cell is shown at right. Here we see a hydrogen molecule (H2) entering at left. This molecule is then broken into a single hydrogen atoms. Each hydrogen atom is made up of only one proton and one electron. The proton is able to pass through the membrane while the electron is unable to pass. Once through the membrane, the proton contacts oxygen on the other side of the membrane. Since oxygen is a negative atom it easily bonds with two positive protons. All that is needed is two electrons to form water (H2O).
Meanwhile the electrons on the original side of the membrane increase in number. This gathering of electrons is a build up of electrical charge. Once a wire connects the two sides of the membrane the electrons are able to flow to meet the protons and form water. This flow of electrons is electricity and can be used to light lightbulbs, run cars, or power computers.