Ya’Gotta: Fuel Cells – Reducing Greenhouse Gases

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By: Bob Kenyon

Due to the evident threat of global warming industries, individuals, governments and academics are searching to find ways to reduce greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases, primarily water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, trap the heat of the sun, preventing radiation from dissipating into space. Canada’s commitment, to the December 1997 Kyoto Protocol, was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 6% below 1990 levels by 2008-2012.

One of the biggest producers of green house gases, are our main form of transportation…cars. Obviously we need ways to reduce the emissions from vehicles. How to reduce these emissions may come from a small Canadian company, Ballard Power Systems located in the Vancouver area, in the province of British Columbia.

Based on the solid polymer fuel cells, of the type that were first developed by General Electric to fly in NASA’s 1960’s Gemini space program; Ballard have developed a cell that produces electricity by electrochemically combining hydrogen fuel. The hydrogen can be obtained from fuels such as natural gas, methanol, or petroleum, and oxygen from the air. When fuelled by pure hydrogen, heat and pure water vapour are the only by-products from the fuel cell’s electrochemical reaction.

Ballard Power Systems is recognized as the world leader in developing, manufacturing and marketing zero-emission proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells for use in transportation, electricity generation and portable power products. Ballard Power Systems’ proprietary fuel cell technology is enabling automobile, electrical equipment and portable power product manufacturers to develop environmentally clean products for sale. To this extent Ballard is partnering with strong, world-leading companies in all of the related industries.

The government of British Columbia is currently supporting the deployment of three zero-emission fuel cell buses. As well there are similar buses operating in Chicago. These buses use fuel cell engines from Xcellsis and powered by Ballard fuel cells as a demonstration program. In Greater Vancouver these buses are being operated in revenue service on regular routes and data is being collected on their operational characteristics.

The major players in the car industry (Daimler/Chrysler, Ford, Honda, General Motors, BMW, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen) are all developing fuel cell cars. Some will use Ballard fuel cells, others will have similar cells developed by the manufacturers themselves. Some of the manufacturers have already unveiled prototype models. They are the Daimler/Chrysler (NECAR), Ford (P2000), General Motors (HydroGen3) and Honda (FCX). Honda has developed two models, one uses methane and the other traditional gasoline.

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