AE Details
Minimize

Add To DockFueling the Future

For every new technology or green idea out there, it seems that natural gas is somehow involved. For wind and solar, natural gas seems like the best backup power source when it’s dark or the wind doesn’t blow. For plug-in hybrid cars, we know the electricity to power them has to come from somewhere. In Oklahoma, the majority of power is generated by natural gas-fired power plants. In transportation, CNG is a wonderful alternative to lowering hazardous emissions that cause greenhouse gases. And yet again, I come across fuel cells. While fuel cells are powered by hydrogen specifically, it turns out that the best resource for getting hydrogen into the cell is – you guessed it – natural gas.
 
Scientists say fuel cells may are a promising technology for clean and efficient electricity generation. Unlike a combustion engine where the fuel is actually burned, fuel cells rely on a chemical reaction to generate power.
 
A fuel cell works by sending hydrogen and oxidants over electrodes. This produces a chemical reaction that generates electricity without requiring the combustion of fuel. The reaction produces water, heat and electricity with next to no emissions.

Fuel Cells
U.S. Energy Info. Admin. ranks natural gas-fired fuel cells as the cleanest form of fossil fuel-based electricity generation due to: 

 
        
  • A 70% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions compared with a new coal-fired power plant. What CO2 is created is easily captured.
  •            
  • Virtual elimination of sulfur dioxide, the primary contributor to acid rain
  •              
  • No solid waste discharges or negative impact on surrounding water quality, and no water consumption
  •              
             
 
Here’s the catch: the fuel cell needs hydrogen gas to work. Hydrogen gas doesn’t occur naturally by itself in nature. It must be separated from another source – like water or methane, also known as natural gas. In comparison, methane contains four hydrogen atoms to water’s two. Twice the bang for the buck. And water is scarce in a lot of areas these days.

So far, a majority of fuel cell use has been targeted toward transportation or large-scale industrial uses. However, last month a Houston company called National Wind Solutions announced a plan to acquire a breakthrough hydrogen-based fuel cell technology powered by natural gas. National Wind will focus on homeowners and small businesses using compact fuel cells. The company will rely on the already established 65 million households that have natural gas service. The company says its fuel cell can tap into that gas line and provide power for homes and businesses.
 
“As America accelerates toward a clean energy future, hydrogen-based fuel cells will be a key component in the alternative energy mix,” stated Maurice Stone, President of National Wind Solutions, Inc. “By acquiring this technology, we allow ourselves to bring consumers an exciting green product that meets their energy needs now.”
 
We spend a lot of time talking about natural gas as the bridge fuel to the future. Truly, it is much more than a bridge to fill a gap until we find something else. It is evident that these future technologies are greatly supported by natural gas. Due to its abundant and domestic nature, it is a safe bet to make that natural gas will continue to support our needs for decades.

Related Stories »

The U.S. Energy Information Administration ranks natural gas fuel cells as the cleanest form of fossil fuel-based electricity generation.