A fuel cell is a cell that produces an electric current directly from a chemical reaction.
hydrogen fuel cell is capable of producing electricity without any pollution because the only byproduct is pure water.
Hydrogen fuel cells are the most common, used in spacecraft and other areas where there is a specific need for a clean and efficient power source is needed. We will show you how you can make a hydrogen fuel cell yourself in about 10 minutes. When finished you will be able to show how hydrogen and oxygen can combine to produce clean electricity.
- One foot of platinum coated nickel wire, or pure platinum wire
- A popsicle stick or similar sized piece of wood or plastic
- A 9 volt battery clip
- A 9 volt battery
- Transparent scotch tape
- A glass of water
- A volt meter
First, cut the platinum wire into two six inch long pieces, and wind each piece into a little coil which will serve as the electrodes in your fuel cell. You can use a nail, ice pick or a coat hanger to form your coils.
Next, cut the leads of the battery clip in half and strip the insulation off the ends. When this is done, twist the ends of the bare wires onto the electrodes. Attach a positive wire from the battery clip and the positive cut wire to one electrode and do the same with the negative wires to the other electrode. The loose wires will be used later to connect to the volt meter.
Tape the electrodes securely to the popsicle stick, and then tape the popsicle stick securely to the glass of water. The electrodes should be almost completely submerged in the water.
Next, connect the red wire to the positive terminal of the voltmeter and the black wire to the negative terminal of the voltmeter. The voltmeter should read 0 volts, however, it may also read a small amount, such as 0.01 volts.
Fuel Cell Operation
Now that your fuel cell is complete to operate it you will need to cause bubbles of hydrogen to cling to one electrode, while oxygen bubbles cling to the other electrode. To do this, you simply touch the 9 volt battery to the battery clip. There is no need to actually clip the battery in place because it will only be needed for a second or two.
Touching the battery to the clip causes a process called electrolysis, which is when the hydrogen and oxygen in the water split and their bubbles form at the electrodes while the battery is attached.
When you remove the battery, if you weren’t using a platinum coated wire, you would expect to see the voltmeter read zero volts again because there is no longer the battery connected to it. However, in this case the platinum acts as a catalyst, allowing the hydrogen and oxygen to recombine.
The hydrolysis reaction reverses. The hydrogen and oxygen recombine to make water again and produce electricity.
In the beginning you will get a little over two volts from the fuel cell, as the bubbles pop and dissolve in the water or are used up by the reaction, the voltage drops, at first quickly, and then more slowly.
After a few minutes, the voltage declines a lot slower, because most of the recent decline is due to the gasses being used up in the reaction that produces the electricity.