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NOVA scienceNOW: Fuel Cells

Program Overview


Researchers explain how hydrogen fuel cells work. They consider the challenges of using hydrogen as a fuel source and discuss where hydrogen might work best as a fuel.

This NOVA scienceNOW segment:

  • defines a fuel cell as a kind of battery that uses hydrogen and oxygen to generate electricity, producing water as a byproduct.

  • describes how fuel cells work—hydrogen and oxygen are on opposite sides of a membrane. When hydrogen crosses the membrane to bond with the oxygen, the membrane strips off its electron. These electrons travel through a circuit, producing an electrical current.

  • examines several ways of obtaining hydrogen gas, such as using photosynthesis and lasers, and notes that, on Earth, hydrogen is found chemically bonded with other atoms; thus an energy-intensive step is required for splitting off the hydrogen.

  • observes that hydrogen production requires large, technically advanced facilities and that producing large amounts of hydrogen on-site, such as in a factory or apartment complex, may be the most feasible and cost-effective way of using fuel cells on a widespread basis.

  • showcases a fuel-cell car and examines the growing interest in such vehicles.

  • discusses the challenge of making hydrogen a convenient fuel for cars—it will require a complex infrastructure to produce, transport, and distribute hydrogen efficiently and to dispense it to individual cars safely and conveniently.

  • concludes with the assertion that it will take at least 20 years to learn how to utilize hydrogen as a widespread fuel source.

Taping Rights: Can be used up to one year after the program is taped off the air.

Teacher's Guide
NOVA scienceNOW: Fuel Cells
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