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Can Drinking Water Come From Hydrogen Fuel Cells?

By June 27, 2022 5   min read  (814 words)

June 27, 2022 |

Fuel Cells Works, Can Drinking Water Come From Hydrogen Fuel Cells?

Hydrogen fuel cells could be potential game-changers in the transition to renewable energy as the world fights climate change. While industry leader Elon Musk — CEO of Tesla and SpaceX — was quick to dismiss the use of hydrogen as an energy storage tool, many other influential leaders believe hydrogen fuel cells could play a significant role in the future.

Hydrogen and its fuel cells have many applications in several fields, including transportation, energy management and manufacturing. Compared to combustion-based technologies, hydrogen fuel cells offer many benefits like higher efficiency and lower emissions.

Learn more about hydrogen fuel cells, how they work and if this technology could produce safe drinking water.

The Importance of Producing Clean, Safe Drinking Water

There’s no denying that water pollution and limited access to clean drinking water is a global human rights issue society is grappling with. According to the United Nations, two billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress.

Researchers expect climate change to exacerbate water scarcity, making it challenging for people to reap the benefits of sanitation and health care services. There’s only so much clean drinking water available on the planet. Still, it’s no secret that water is an essential part of life for everyone.

Although water demand will increase as the world population grows, it’s likely the world’s water supply will remain the same. Some regions have adopted better water-management practices, such as recycling water and using treated wastewater for purposes outside of drinking.

Despite these efforts to improve water management, it’s challenging for governments to supply citizens with an adequate amount of clean water. For example, a total of 62 million Americans have consumed water that failed to meet at least one guideline set forth by the government. These guidelines protect the general public from disease and illness.

Is it Safe to Drink Water From Hydrogen Fuel Cells?

Many understand that hydrogen fuel cells produce energy and clean water, making them a valuable resource for modern society. Hydrogen fuel cells function by reacting to hydrogen molecules and oxygen through two electrodes and an electrolyte — otherwise known as a battery.

When hydrogen comes through the anode, it contacts the electrolyte catalyst and splits into protons and electrons. Electrons flow through the electrical circuit and protons through the electrolyte. The protons then combine with oxygen and electrons return to the cathode, resulting in heat and water byproducts.

So, is this water safe to drink? The answer is a bit mixed. Generally speaking, the water should be safe to drink, in theory. One study found the water quality produced by two commercial fuel cells met nearly all drinking water requirements from the World Health Organization and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The study concluded that nickel, manganese and aluminum could be easily controlled in the water systems. It also suggests that water from the polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell — the fuel cell tested in the study — would be able to satisfy the drinking water needs of an average American household if they reach a recovery efficiency of 40%.

The main reason water from a fuel cell may not be safe to drink is that other components in a system may cause contamination. For example, hydrogen fuel cells often power modern vehicles like the Toyota Mirai. Water comes out from the exhaust pipe and would look clean enough to drink.

However, knowing exactly what else could be lingering in that water sample is challenging. Suppose it’s coming from an exhaust pipe of a vehicle traveling on a standard road. In that case, dirt, gravel, dust, tar or any other harmful substance could enter the water supply.

Ultimately, the water released from a hydrogen fuel cell may be safe to drink, but science must consider and control many other factors to guarantee it is high-quality.

Potential for Hydrogen Fuel Cells to Produce Drinking Water in the Future

In an ideal world, hydrogen fuel cells could produce massive amounts of drinking water for the general public. However, it does not seem as though technology has advanced enough for this to happen. Either way, hydrogen fuel cells are expected to be a highly useful technology aiding energy transition.

With more research and development, it’s possible that scientists, researchers and water-management specialists could find an innovative way to produce clean drinking water from these revolutionary fuel cells.
About the Author
Jane Marsh

Jane Marsh, Contributor

Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co. Jane covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, green technology, renewable energy and more.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Fuel Cells Works, its directors, partners, staff, contributors, or suppliers. Any content provided by our contributors or authors are of their own opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.

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