Through continued research, fuel cells are developing into a very efficient and clean production method to satisfy future electrical energy needs. Fuel cells provide a number of critical benefits not present within many of the conventional energy production methods in use today. Most notably, the energy provided by fuel cells is produced from hydrogen, a conversion which releases only air and water and creates no harmful emissions. This characteristic is one of many reasons that fuel cells are continuing to gain ground in commercial, private consumer/residential, military, automotive, portable and many other electrical energy production industries.
Fuel cells produce energy without the need for combustion. Rather, the chemical energy contained in hydrogen gas is converted electrical energy by passing hydrogen ions through an electrolyte sandwiched between two electrodes. (see the diagram at right for a graphical representation of this process) In many ways, a fuel cell acts a lot like a battery. The fuel cell, however, will never run down or require recharging; it will only require source of hydrogen fuel. While the fuel source can be refined hydrogen gas, research into fuel reforming techniques continues to provide new methods that allow fuel cells to utilize hydrogen from any hydrocarbon fuel (i.e. natural gas or gasoline). This provides a possible technology to span the gap between reliance on fossil fuels and the creation of a new energy infrastructure.