Viva la fuel cell revolution?

As newer technology enters our lives, it usually goes by evolution and not revolution. Think of things like video cards and TVs. Each iteration brings us better and faster devices with more features… but not a revolution. Think about HDTV and plasma. Have you tossed out your old set yet? Didn’t think so. But what about cell phones? That’s a revolution right? Yes… but… have you tossed your out your land line?

What is fuel cell technology?
Basically a fuel cell is a battery that as it’s being drawn from is also being recharged at the same time. This is accomplished by taking a fuel source, like propane or natural gas, and extracting the hydrogen and burning it. The only by-products are heat and water. Pretty good, eh? Well there are many technical difficulties that need be overcome. You can read about all the details here:

So with that in mind, how should fuel cells enter our lives? I say through other devices and machines. Think lawn mowers, backup generators, and camping gear. 

There are the “early adopters” and then there are “the rest of us”. The early adopters are people who are willing to be high-price guinea pigs. They will buy new technology first, find the kinks, and subsidize the future production for the rest of us. The rest of us, however, wait for prices to fall or for the technology to become ubiquitous before buying. In the case of fuel cells, there’s a chicken and the egg problem. There aren’t any fuel stations setup to dispense either hydrogen or other fuels to make the fuel cells work. So, why would people want to buy a car that they can’t fuel up? Even the early adopters are left out in the cold.

On the other hand, lawn mowers and other smaller or portable devices, tend to use smaller amounts of fuel. If the fuel is, say propane, then chances are your grill may already use it. So, it wouldn’t be hard to use that same tank to power your mower or generator or many other camping-type devices. Plus, you can fill the tank at the local grocery store. This would also solve the second problem for “the rest of us”. If fuel cells entered our lives in a more subtle way, more people would be adopt at a faster rate.
One of the main problems with fuel cells is safety. If manufacturers can figure out a way to safely contain the hydrogen and get the fuel cells small enough, then we really could have a revolution…

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.


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