Top 5 Ways That Fuel Cells Will Impact the Way We Live in the Future

Posted on August 19, 2015

Around the globe, our relationship to energy has hit a tipping point. Both consumers and governing bodies recognise that halting emissions and relieving dependence on fossil fuels is of the utmost importance. Simultaneously, the global oil market has spent the past year in utter turmoil, underscoring how volatile fossil fuels truly are. Rapidly expanding populations around the globe are putting increased strain on aging grid infrastructure just as the same people turn increasingly mobile with the advent of smartphones. In an industry plagued by uncertainty, if one thing’s for sure, it’s that the current energy model is not meeting demands.


Enter hydrogen fuel cells. Once considered a space-age fantasy, hydrogen fuel cells ability to meet all of the needs of the energy society has quickly propelled them from fiction to reality. Advances in fuel cell technology have allowed it to be scaled for usage at the consumer, automobile and infrastructure levels. A recent report on the global fuel cell market found that it’s projected to grow at “CAGRs of 30.40% and 31.91% in terms of unit shipment and MW shipment, respectively, over the period 2014-2019.” But what does this mean for the way that we live day to day? Here are five top ways in which hydrogen fuel cells can revolutionise daily life.

1.   Cleaner Vehicles
Thus far, hydrogen fuel cell power has received the lion’s share of attention around fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV). And rightly so - FCEVs provide a solution to many of the greatest issues faced by car users. Not only are they zero-emission, but they’re free from the fluctuations of oil prices that make gas guzzling cars such a financial gamble. While lingering rumors about the cost and accessibility of fuel have made some in the past reluctant to consider FCEVs as a fully viable replacement for traditional motor vehicles, many of the biggest players in the auto industry have made huge investments to enable a FCEV-enabled future. Toyota released all of their hydrogen fuel cell patents as free to use to better facilitate infrastructure expansion, and Hyundai and Nissan have joined them in helping to construct what they’ve dubbed “a hydrogen society.” Just last month, luxury car dealer BMW threw its hat into the ring and announced that it will be debuting some hydrogen fuel cell-powered models in the near future. While Japan has been at the vanguard of establishing a hydrogen fuel cell infrastructure for some time, the state of California is currently rolling out 48 hydrogen-fuelling stations to better encourage consumer adoption. This dramatic market acceleration is also something we have witnessed in our own business. Intelligent Energy has doubled its portfolio of automotive customers that will use our hydrogen fuel cell technology. This equates to four of the 17 car OEMs who make more than one million FCEV cars each per year. With this said, its clear FCEVs are not just our future they’re also the present.


2.   More Reliable Power for Homes and Buildings

In most parts of the world, and particularly in more developed regions, we’re accustomed to thinking of power as distributed through a large public utilities grid. These grids are centralised, sprawling and ultimately quite clunky. Many developing countries with rapidly expanding populations like India are prone to frequent blackouts, and even places like the United States suffer from severe outages in times of crisis and natural disaster.


With hydrogen fuel cells, this doesn’t have to be the case. Not only do they provide a cleaner, more reliable supply of power to the existing grid, but they’re more and more frequently being used in distributed power and generation. Distributed power enabled through hydrogen fuel cells is better suited to powering the homes and buildings of the future for an array of reasons: It’s more easily accessible, more efficient, more easily implemented and cheaper. And the sector’s already growing tremendously: General Electric predicts that through the end of the decade, distributed power will grow at a rate nearly 40% faster than overall global power demand. Blackouts could be a thing of the past.


3.   A Mobile World

There's no doubt about it — the world has gone mobile. Even regions of the globe plagued by connectivity issues have rapidly burgeoning populations of mobile phone users. Indeed, cell phones have brought regions like Africa and India firmly into the 21st century and have even pushed them past more developed nations in some industries. This trend shows no sign of slowing, either — by next year, there will be at least 2 billion smartphone users, and China and India will have passed 500 and 200 millions users each, respectively. As usage increases, more and more of our daily personal and professional lives hinge upon charged and operational smartphones. And yet, most of us are still plagued by the daily struggle to keep our smart phones charged.


While the problem may be worse in developing countries with unreliable energy grids, it's a nuisance that's become the universal 21st century experience. While we’ve demonstrated that hydrogen fuel cells make excellent personal external chargers, they've proven viable for the next generation of consumer fuel cell technology that's embedded in the mobile devices themselves. With embedded hydrogen fuel cell technology, charging, as we currently know it will soon be an antiquated annoyance of the past. Not only will this free us from our ties to wall charging, but it will also enable a world of greater mobile connectivity and commerce.


4.   Bridging the Gap Between Fossil Fuels and Renewables

While hydrogen fuel cells themselves fall squarely under the category of renewable energy, they can also defy the silos that have previously defined the deeply divided energy sector. Unlike solar and other renewable energy sources, hydrogen fuel cell structures can readily be incorporated into existing fossil fuel-driven infrastructure. Already, American power and utilities companies have begun incorporating fuel cells alongside more traditional means of energy production, and only stand to increase their investment in hydrogen over fossil fuels in the future. According to a recent article in Bloomberg, Southern California Gas Co. has also started two pilot projects that will test the feasibility of using solar energy produced when power demand is low to split hydrogen from water and store the gas in pipelines.


Similarly, Intelligent Energy's Indian subsidiary Essential Energy has begun incorporating hydrogen fuel into support of the otherwise unreliable Indian telecoms grid by installing fuel cells alongside aging diesel generators. It's this interoperability with existing fossil fuel-driven structures that makes hydrogen fuel cell power immediately viable, because rather than having to first completely replace an existing power grid, it can be incorporated as is immediately -- while still reducing emissions and increasing reliability.  


5.   Freedom from the Grid

Our relationship with energy in the past and present has been defined largely by our ties to the larger grid. We're so used to this state of affairs that we rarely stop to consider our constant pursuit of chargers and cables, our landscapes broken up by power lines and, of course, our constant harvesting of fossil fuels to supply the burgeoning needs of the existing energy grid.


Instead, it's time to envision an entirely new state of affairs. Our relationship with energy no longer has to be a slavish one defined by the grid's demands and limitations. With hydrogen fuel cells, we can not only free ourselves from the grid, but also progress into the next state of energy affairs in which we eventually become independent producers of our own energy.


Welcome to the very real future that's already starting to take shape. The success and rapid implementation of hydrogen fuel cell technology signals the demand and the capabilities exist. As our global relationship with energy hits a tipping point, hydrogen fuel cells are perfectly poised to meet the increasing demand for a cleaner and more reliable energy source around the world.


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