Fuel Cells: Environmental Benefits

Reduced air pollution to energy independence

The environmental impact of fuel cells depends on the type of cell and the fuel being used. Fuel cells can run on a variety of sources, from natural gas to hydrogen to ethanol to biogas. Those that run on hydrogen can sometimes produce a by-product of water or heat, though hydrogen fuel cells are considered more difficult to work with because of transportation and storage. More user friendly fuel cells which use natural gas with emissions that are much lower than those produced by conventional engines or energy sources and can reduce your carbon footprint by around 40%. Additionally, there are only negligible levels of NOx, SOx, Volatile organic compounds and particulates, which is a drastic improvement over traditional means of grid power production.

Besides the decreased CO2 emissions and high efficiency rates, fuel cells offer plenty of positive environmental impacts that should be considered by investors and consumers as solutions for cleaner energy are being further researched.

1. Fuel Conservation

The use of fuel cells can significantly diminish our dependency on foreign oil. Since fuel cells make energy electrochemically and do not burn fuel like conventional combustion systems, they are much more efficient. Admittedly, some fuel cells need fossil fuels to start their functions; most residential systems run partially off of natural gas.

If just 20% of the cars in America used fuel cells, we could cut oil imports by 1.5 million barrels per day. This is $44 billion per year that could remain in the country!

2. Combined Heat and Power

The greatest benefit from high powered, well designed fuel cells is the heat and power produced. This means that a property can reduce additional investments to heat their indoor areas or water. In this case, less is more. Since the heat can be redirected to heat water, the environmental benefit from this is the ability to heat the hot water supply without a need for a separate system as is the case with home solar.

3. Infinitely renewable.

Fuel cells can be used in combination with other renewable energy sources, like wind or solar power, or any renewable source. Creating a multi-source hybrid energy system is a great option if you are striving for a totally emission-free energy system that requires minimal or zero fossil fuels.


4. Fuel cells can help to reduce air pollution.

Air pollution doesn’t just hurt our plant life and atmosphere but it continuously causes primary health problems like asthma, heart and lung disease, and in some instances even cancer. Fuel cell systems and vehicles operating with on-board stored hydrogen produce no pollution in the conventional sense. Neither conventional pollutants nor green house gases, NOx, SOx, VOC (volatile organic compounds) or particulates are emitted. The only by-product is water, and in some instances an insignificant amount of CO2.

5. Reduce global warming.

Fuel cells can help prevent global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and prompting alternative fuel options. Since fuel cells can run 24/7, additional sources of power are needed minimally.

Continual discoveries

Despite the already-known benefits and functions of fuel cells, research and development continues. Numerous schools and organizations are dedicating full-time programs to researching fuel cells system and components.

The National Fuel Cell Research Center (NFCRC) was established at the University of California, Irvine, in 1998. It is perhaps the oldest and best-known fuel cell research center focusing on fuel cell systems and applications.

The Connecticut Global Fuel Cell Center at the University of Connecticut strives to promote global education, research, training, and advancing technologies. The center’s work primarily focuses on computer modeling of fuel cell system, research in diesel fuel reformation, heat transfer, and other fuel cell related subjects.

Educational research programs like these can be found all over the world, and they are our key to future energy-independence and clean fuel sources. Due to the quick and efficient growth of fuel cell systems, the average consumer can expect to see them in the marketplace more and more over the next few years. Companies such as ClearEdge Power are already selling complete home and commercial fuel cell systems in California, with rollout to other states expected in coming years.

Getting Started

If you are interested in installing a fuel cell system, begin by determining your budget and then decide on the size of your specific project. Many states offer various incentives for renewables so make sure to check if you are eligible for any rebates. Check out the DSIRE website for information in your area.

Our recommendation is to look for companies that offer commercial and residential installation—search our GreenPages for fuel cell providers such as ClearEdge Power.

Learn More

Renewable Energy at Home

Air Sealing and Weatherization

Money Saving Lights

Residential Wind Turbines

Install of a Super Therm White Roof


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