THE BALLARD FUEL CELL
The Ballard fuel cell is a power generating device which combines hydrogen (which can be obtained from methanol, natural gas, petroleum) and oxygen without the use of combustion in order to generate electricity. Since fuel cells operate very quietly and efficiently and their only emissions are pure water and heat they are expected to be the future of power generating machines.
The PEM fuel cell is made of two plates with a plastic membrane coated with a catalyst in the middle. Hydrogen is then fed through the channels on one side of the plates and oxygen is fed through the other side. The hydrogen and oxygen atoms are drawn toward each other. Only one part of the hydrogen atom – the proton – can pass through the membrane. The electron has to take the long way around through an external circuit. This creates electricity. The oxygen side attracts protons and electrons that have traveled through the external circuit. This is where the byproducts water and heat are formed. Each fuel cell operates continuously as long as hydrogen is supplied. Single cells are combined to produce the required amount of power.
PEM fuel cells operate at around 90 degrees Celsius and give off 90 degrees Celsius of heat, which is a fairly low temperature. This is much better than high temperature combustion engines, which operate at about 2500 degrees Celsius and give off 125 degrees Celsius of heat. This means the Ballard fuel cell can react quickly to load changes and makes it ideal for motor vehicles. Which is why Honda, Nissan, Volkswagen Yamaha, Daimler Chrysler and Ford have commercialized the use of these cells.
The cities of Vancouver and Chicago are currently testing Ballard’s fuel cell transit buses. They are seeing the maintenance requirements of the pollution free buses as well as the public reaction to the program. By 2002 there will be 33 of these buses publicly available in 11 cities in Australia and Europe and by 2004 DaimlerChrysler and Ford expect to start producing prototype vehicles using the Ballard Fuel Cell.
Not only is the proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells used in transportation, but they are used in electricity generation and portable power products too. This technology is allowing automobile and electrical equipment and portable power product manufacturers to develop environmentally clean products.