Arguably, future energy sources for vehicles and stationary electrical generation will be hydrogen fuel cells and battery-powered because the continuing use of coal, petroleum and natural gas will contribute to catastrophic climate change. Reducing greenhouse gases will lead to cleaner air, make countries more energy-efficient and independent and make the energy distribution system more cost-effective. Therefore, emission reduction with a goal of curbing climate change must include automobiles and trucks. In addition, the number miles driven by consumers globally increased by 1.3 percent in 2017, or 32 billion miles or 170 round trips from Earth to the Sun.
As such, this chapter begins with a brief history of fuel cells, followed by a description of current research and development. Relative to other ways to generate electricity, fuel cells have the advantages of low costs with high efficiencies. Typically, fuel cells burn hydrogen that reacts with oxygen in the air to produce electricity and water. Neither produces heat-trapping gases that warm the global climate system.
Energy defines the amount of work that can be completed, and power tells us how quickly that work gets done. Energy and power provided determine the value of batteries. In addition to hydrogen-oxygen fuel cell technology, research and development on long-lasting batteries offer another opportunity to break our fossil fuel dependence. Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries limit their utility for larger tasks. Providing electricity to power vehicles, households and factories remains a promised but as-yet-unrealized goal. The focus on wind and solar energy without an efficient energy storage component remains a plan without a benefit. How to capture and retain energy produced by wind and solar when the Sun disappears below the horizon and the wind stops blowing becomes a conundrum without storage capacity.