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Natural Gas Boom Drives Support For Fuel Cells

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An energy conference underway this week in Lorain is focused on a different way to make and store electricity—using fuel cells. Ideastream’s Michelle Kanu reports Ohio’s recent natural gas drilling boom is igniting new support for this technology.

Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 4:53 pm

At a really basic level, a fuel cell is like a battery—it makes and stores electricity.

But unlike batteries that die or need to be recharged, fuel cells get their power from a chemical source—mostly hydrogen. As long as the hydrogen keeps flowing, the fuel cell keeps working.

And that’s where natural gas comes in. Natural gas is mostly methane, which is made up of carbon and lots of hydrogen.

With all the natural gas drilling going on in Ohio, backers of fuel cell technology see opportunities ahead.

Hutton: “This is going to open up a whole new market now with the amount of natural gas that’s available in the ground.”

Jerrold Hutton is with Clean Fuels Ohio, a nonprofit that promotes clean transportation fuels. He was one of the speakers at the Fuel Cell Symposium at Lorain County Community College. He says the abundance of natural gas on the market has pushed the price down, and that will help companies build and market fuel cells at a lower cost. Once that happens, Hutton says fuel cells can be used to power cars or to generate electricity in communities.

Hutton: “We could put a fuel cell, say in the neighborhood of 120 homes where there’s natural gas pipelines, and we can make electricity right there.”

There are still challenges facing the fuel cell industry. While the natural gas boon may bring the cost of producing hydrogen down, other fuel cell components are still expensive. Safety is also a concern, and infrastructure for widespread fuel cell use is still undeveloped.

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