This One is Just Right-How Temperature Affects the Performance of a Hydrogen Fuel Cell

Friday, February 12, 2016
Bryce DeBok, KJAS, Shawnee, KS
The United States consumes 20.8 million barrels of petroleum oil a day-nine million is for gasoline! Changing the source that fuels American driven automobiles would have a significant impact on demand for fossil fuels and decrease the impact these fossil fuels have on the environment. One such renewable energy source is hydrogen. Hydrogen is a safe, renewable, and clean energy source. Using a Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell, hydrogen combines with oxygen to generate electricity that can power a variety of devices, including vehicles. In order for hydrogen-powered vehicles to be attractive to the American consumer, they need to perform well in all climates and temperatures. The purpose of this experiment was to see what affect three different temperatures; 20 degrees Fahrenheit, 70 degrees Fahrenheit, 120 degrees Fahrenheit, had on the performance of a hydrogen PEM fuel cell in a model car. If a model car powered by a hydrogen fuel cell is tested with the hydrogen fuel cell exposed to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, 70 degrees Fahrenheit, or 120 degrees Fahrenheit, then the hydrogen fuel cell exposed to 120 degrees Fahrenheit will perform the longest as the heat will speed up the chemical reaction that occurs in the fuel cell thus producing more electricity and allowing the model car to run the longest.

The experiment used a reverse hydrogen PEM fuel cell to power a model car. The fuel cell was placed in an enclosure set at three different temperatures: 20 degrees Fahrenheit, 70 degrees Fahrenheit, 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the fuel cell was exposed to the tested temperatures for fifteen minutes, it was hooked up to the model car and placed on a treadmill. The amount of time the model car ran on the treadmill was measured and recorded in seconds. After ten trials for each temperature, the PEM hydrogen fuel cell at 70 degrees Fahrenheit, which was the control group, performed significantly better than the 20 degrees Fahrenheit and 120 degrees Fahrenheit groups. The 70 degrees Fahrenheit hydrogen fuel cell ran an average of 505.5 seconds, which was 97% better than the 20 degrees Fahrenheit fuel cell that ran an average of 256.5 seconds, and 157.77% better than the 120 degrees Fahrenheit fuel cell which ran an average of 196.1 seconds. The 120 degrees Fahrenheit fuel cell had the shortest performance time therefore the hypothesis is not accepted. The best performing fuel cell was the 70 degrees temperature fuel cell. Therefore, in order for PEM fuel cells to generate electricity that provides the optimal power to an automobile, car manufacturers should consider a way to keep the PEM fuel cell in a 70 degrees Fahrenheit environment. This could be a challenge for areas of extreme heat or cold, but worth the challenge in order to convert the auto-buying consumer from fossil fuels to clean, renewable, and environmentally safe and friendly hydrogen power.