Fuel cells are being looked at by many experts as one of the ways to reduce our fossil fuel dependency, and at the same time further the national interest in renewable energy supplies. In light of today's difficulties, these are increasingly important goals.
Fuel cells produce electricity by converting the chemical energy of fuel directly into power in controlled chemical reactions. Since they do this without combustion and without moving parts, they are both efficient and do not hurt the environment. They are very clean, very efficient, and very reliable.
Up until now, the ability to produce cells that were small and light enough so that they could be truly functional was limited. But there have been tremendous strides in the last several years.
Home developers, and auto producers, and other industries, are looking at fuel cells for the next generation of energy production. Fuel cells are becoming economically competitive with other forms of conventional power.
Today, fuel cells are already in limited providing power for buildings and houses throughout the world. Automobile companies are launching prototypes that rely on fuel cell energy. And some buses are already being placed into service with fuel cell energy.
This past June, a fuel cell "Expo" was held in Washington and attended by many in Congress and other Washington types. It was held at the Canon House office building in Capitol Hill and was one of the largest displays of fuel cell technology in the country. At the Expo, the U.S. Energy Secretary proclaimed that the Administration is committed to the development of fuel cells. The government has asked for $120 million dollars in the year 2002 to support partnerships and research in this area.
Fuel cell vehicles from Ford and Hyundai were among the new offerings displayed at the Expo. In addition, a bus developed by Georgetown University was also displayed.
The EPA is looking at combining fuel cell energy with other kinds of energy to provide even more efficient energy sources. According to the EPA, these hybrids may realize an extra 25 percent increase in operational efficiency.
This hybrid is already being analyzed by the National Fuel Cell Research Center at the University of California in Irvine. Currently, the University is determining current optimal operating conditions, as well as a range of safe operating conditions and modeling which will determine the direction of future research.
Already one Texas developer is offering fuel cells to prospective home purchasers. This is very innovative and still is unusual. We should expect to see more and more of this in the future since traditional energy costs from public suppliers are on the rise (look at what happened in California for example). Consumers are increasingly interested in energy production sources that do not rely on traditional utilities.
Fuel cell development is one of those areas in which our government and private manufacturers are working together to promote increased self-sustainability. Fuel cells are becoming smaller, cheaper, and more efficient. While many competing new energy production technologies are being explored, fuel cells will almost certainly be a permanent part of what the future holds in store.