This news item was created by students Sean Pfaff and Michael Simon as part of their Chemistry 216 Collaborative Group Activities in FS01 under the guidance of Prof. Rainer Glaser.

Glaser's "Chemistry is in the News"


STUDY ON FUEL-CELL ECONOMICS SEES NEED FOR PUBLIC MONEY
By Matt Nauman, Chicago Tribune, November 8, 2001.


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Editorial Comments

This article relates to organic chemistry because fuel cells would alter the way our society uses hydrocarbons for energy. Conventional combustion engines derive energy from alkanes by reacting them with oxygen. Fuel cells could use alkanes merely for the hydrogen needed in the fuel cell reaction. (Click here to see a fuel cell in action.)

International Fuel Cells is a company that produces fuel cells and advocates their implementation because of greater efficiency and lower emissions compared to combustion engines. 

Los Alamos National Laboratories also supports the use of fuel cells and provides a detailed explanation on fuel cell operation. 

The California Fuel Cell Partnership is an organization that intends to develop infrastructure necessary to make widespread fuel cell use possible. The report by Bevilacqua-Knight advocates government funding to make fuel cell powered cars commercially viable. There may, however, be drawbacks to government involvement in the free market.

Figure 1. An example of a fuel cell-powered car, the Necar5 is built by Daimler-Chrysler.

 

Questions

1.    What advantage does the fuel cell-powered vehicle have over the current internal combustion engine-powered vehicle?

 

2.    With such little pollution and such high efficiency, what other applications or uses might a fuel cell have?

 

Figure 2

3.    According to Figure 2 if you use fuel cells instead of fossil fueled plants, how many pounds of carbon dioxide emissions can you save?

 

4.    Given that currently no safe hydrogen storage system exists, why do you think that it could take years to decades before anyone would make any money from fuel-celled vehicles?

 

5.    What are possible negative side effects of government subsidies to help create an infrastructure to support the fuel cell-powered cars?



Answers

1. Fuel cell-powered vehicles produce little or no pollution and are more fuel-efficient than conventional internal combustion engines.

2. Fuel cells could be used on a larger scale such as in electrical power plants.

3. Approximately 2,000,000 pounds of CO2 emissions a year.

4. The most likely reason is that it will take a great deal of money and time to develop a safe and reliable hydrogen storage system.

5. One possible answer may be that the conditions of accepting the government money may be too much for the industry to handle.