As we envision the hydrogen age today, it will rely heavily on fuel
cells to power our homes and cars. What is a fuel cell? In a simple
sense, it's a device that chemically produces electricity from an
added fuel. Standard batteries make electricity too, but their
ingredients are sealed inside and eventually run down. When the
fuel gets low in a fuel cell, you just add more.
Fuel cells are small and quiet. The unit in your car, for instance,
might be a box hardly bigger than a case of beer. Technically, the
box would contain not just one big fuel cell but many small ones
that together power the car's electric motor. You'd fill the car's
tank with hydrogen, which then would be converted cleanly into
electrical power in the fuel cell without releasing any
Some businesses see fuel cells as a way to protect themselves
against the costly computer crashes triggered by power failures.
It's another factor pushing us toward something more decentralized
and weblike than our present energy system.