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Are Hydrogen Fuel Cells Good For the Environment?

There’s no doubt that the development of hydrogen fuel cells as an alternative fuel is good for the environment, but how does that work? It’s easy to say that we should use hydrogen fuel cell technology to save our environment and prevent global warming. Finding facts about it and embracing those facts can be two very different things.

First, let’s consider the fact that hydrogen fuel cells are good for the environment because they are the cleanest burning fuels ever developed. Hydrogen is taken out of water and then put into fuel cells as a gas that can power a vehicle. The only emission that comes out of a fuel cell powered vehicle is water vapor. It’s like having a humidifier for the whole world!

There are, however, some drawbacks that are associated with hydrogen fuel cells and the environment. A completely efficient system of producing, storing and transporting hydrogen should, in principle, lead to no unwanted emissions of the gas.

But the researchers point out that such a system would be expensive, and that in reality around 10-20% of the hydrogen would escape into the atmosphere. They say that if hydrogen fuel cells replaced all of today’s oil and gas-based combustion technologies, such losses would double or even triple the total hydrogen deposited into the atmosphere at the Earth’s surface.

Other researchers say that the hydrogen would be oxidized when it reaches the stratosphere, which would cool the stratosphere and create more clouds. This would delay the break up of the polar vortex at the north and south poles, making the holes in the ozone layer larger and longer lasting. They estimate that the extra hydrogen will lead to a 5-8% rise in ozone depletion at the North Pole and between 3 and 7% at the South Pole.

The exact scale of this additional ozone depletion, however, depends on a number of unknown quantities. In addition to uncertainty over the extent of hydrogen emissions in the future, little is understood about how soil absorbs hydrogen from the atmosphere. The researchers say it is conceivable that this process could compensate for all new anthropogenic emissions.

The truth is, however, that using hydrogen fuel cells as an alternative fuel is actually – in the long run – good for the environment. When the only emission that comes from hydrogen fuel cells is water vapor, you are talking about a huge advantage over the toxic elements that are released into the air with gasoline burning cars.

The bottom line is that hydrogen fuel cells have a positive effect on the environment. There are many more advantages than disadvantages and hydrogen as an alternative fuel has the most promise over any other alternative fuel.

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