All posts by Eddy

Future Energy Source?

Hydrogen Fuel Cell

When I was using simple chemicals to produce electricity during my chemistry class, I had a sudden remembrance of a video that I watched during a biology class. It was based on a revolutionary technology, the hydrogen fuel cell. Ever since I watched the video, I was fascinated by hydrogen fuel cells. It seemed like an ultimate solution to the problems we face today regarding environment and energy. As a result I decided to explore deeper into the science behind the technology and evaluate its effects and

the implications. To begin with, what exactly is a fuel cell? By definition a fuel cell is “a device that produces a continuous electric current directly from the oxidation on of a fuel, as that of hydrogen by oxygen.” When looking at the definition, it can be inferred that a fuel cell doesn’t necessarily require hydrogen. But why is it that in 2003, President Bush specifically announced a program called the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative? Well hydrogen is the lightest and the most abundant chemical element, constituting around 75% of the world’s chemical elemental mass. Also hydrogen is high in energy yet when used produces almost zero pollution. In addition, the fuel cell will produce pure water that can be reused in the process. These characteristics of hydrogen make it the most ideal candidate as a fuel source for a fuel cell. Also according to DOE Hydrogen Program, “Hydrogen-powered fuel cells are not only pollution free, but also can have two to three times the efficiency of traditional combustion technologies.”

Well now that we know why hydrogen fuel cells are ideal, lets take a look at how it works. A single hydrogen fuel cell consists of an electrolyte in between anodes and cathodes with two bipolar plates on each side (connects one fuel cell to another). When hydrogen is produced through electrolysis, it is supplied to this fuel cell. When the hydrogen enters and contacts with the platinum on the catalyst, it splits into electrons and protons. The protons move across the electrolyte, also called the proton exchange membrane, and meet with oxygen that is provided from the outer environment. During this process, the electrons that were separated from the hydrogen are sent to an outer circuit where it produces electricity that is used in motor or other material. At the end of the outer circuit, the electrons meet again with the protons and oxygen. At this moment, the protons, electrons and oxygen react to form pure water. This reaction is exothermic thus produces heat at the same time. The water produced can be reused through electrolysis to supply hydrogen to the fuel cell again. If this circuit continues, then not only will the fuel cell be able to produce electricity constantly, but also fuel cells will be able to reuse the product thus saving our limited resources.

If we just consider these benefits of hydrogen fuel cell, we wonder why it hasn’t been introduced to developing countries. Well there are also negative sides of a hydrogen fuel cell. Many of the parts in a hydrogen fuel cell are costly. As a result even though the technology can be useful in the long run, it will be difficult to spread the usage of it. Also another problem is that the whole process of electrolysis requires electricity from another source for example through burning coal. This will counter the whole purpose of creating a hydrogen fuel cell. To consider all sides to this, we must also take into account the countries or even companies that rely on selling oil. For example Saudi Arabia is ranked first in the production of petroleum and second in exporting oil to the US. Although hydrogen fuel cell won’t completely replace petroleum, expansion of such technology will have a huge impact on countries like Saudi Arabia.

The implication of this technology is huge. Despite its cost, the hydrogen fuel cells can effectively reduce pollution in metropolises. As a result understanding such revolutionary technology and attempting to improve it may possibly alleviate the devastating impacts of global warming. Even when we approach this technology using ethic’s common good approach, although it may harm some countries, it will do more good than harm to our global society. Also we are living in a world with limited resources and by using a method that will produce its own fuel, we will be able to allocate our resources more efficiently. Before this research, I was only interested in hydrogen fuel cell because someone else has told me about it. But as I reached the end of this journey, I saw the huge implication behind such technology and became fascinated with it. The idea that a single technology based on simple chemistry concepts can revolutionized the world amazed me and drew me more into the magical world of science. Also, I realized that every second we are moving towards working WITH the nature to protect what we’ve been taking for granted.

Bibliography

US department of energy.” US department of energy. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Oct 2011. Nice, Karim. “How Fuel Cells Work .” how stuff works. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Oct 2011.

Saudi Arabia.” U.S. Energy Information Administration. n. page. Print.

A Super Coolant

Have you ever wondered what goes on when you lie down with all your jewelries removed and is forced into a giant magnet we call MRI? Well this giant magnet made up of many coils of wire is exerted with a current of electricity which produce the pictures that will tell us whether we have cancer or not. This current creates a magnetic field of 2 tesla. I personally don’t know what it means to have “2 tesla” but I know that Earth has a magnetic field of around 0.5 tesla. So we can conclude that 2 tesla is pretty big and probably will require lots of energy to maintain that level. According to what we know about “energetic” high energy is usually unstable, then how do MRIs produce such fine pictures with such stability? This is when our “hidden hero” comes in, Helium.

Helium is used to bathe the coils of wire and keep them at an extremely low temperature. This cooling process will decrease the resistance to electrical flow, enable a stronger magnetic field and at the same time remain stable. This process can only be done using helium because it has the lowest melting and boiling point. At temperature close to absolute zero (0K), while other substances become solids, helium remains its liquid state. Helium is a noble gas, which explains its low melting/boiling point. Noble gases have very weak intermolecular forces. As a result the gases must approach a very low temperature in order for it to slow down enough to create a bond between its atoms hence forming a solid. Also of all the elements, helium is the most stable since it will not react with other elements. This will allow helium to be applied to almost every situation without any major danger.

Helium’s cooling ability is also used in physics research. Because of helium’s super cooling ability, the world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator can maintain its operating temperature. With the help of helium, the Large Hadron Collider can generate a mini “Big Bang” and hence study the law of nature. Also helium can be used to cool thermo graphic cameras used to detect heat. This camera is usually used to rescue people among wastes and smoke by detecting the body temperature of a person. When this type of camera is cooled, they become more sensitive, which enables them to detect minor temperature changes. Also, relating to recent issues, with the help of helium, incidents such as the nuclear plant’s cooling problem in Japan can be prevented. This is because helium in a nuclear plant will be able to withstand temperatures above 1600 degrees Celsius for several hundred hours without having a melt down.

All of these life changing and life saving technologies are available because of the one element lying on the very top right corner of the periodic table. The implications that come along with helium are huge. We now live in a world where the higher the energy, the better it is. With the help of helium, we are able to explore enormous energies ironically at a stable condition.

Work Cited

Gould, Todd. “How MRI Works.” Discovery Fit&Health n. pag. Web. 13 Apr 2011.

Helium Facts.” Bureau of Land Management n. pag. Web. 13 Apr 2011

Tan, Kenneth. “New nuclear plant coming to Shandong, China in April.” Shanghaiist n. pag. Web. 13 Apr 2011.

Will drinking alcohol keep you warm?

Drinking Alcohol

Will drinking alcohol warm your body up? Well, technically yes AND no. Many people believe that drinking alcohol will keep their bodies warm. I was one of the “people” who believed this before my research. Few days ago, my teacher said that drinking alcohol would not help you survive in colder regions. Therefore I wanted to find out myself whether what I knew was right or wrong. According to Michaele Dunlap, Psy.D, when a person consumes alcohol it deteriorates the central nervous system including intellectual functioning and sensory control. Also Craig Freudenrich, Ph.D.states that the alcohol later influences the medulla, which controls most of the functions in a body including temperature. Once the sensory control is deteriorated, a slight paralysis occurs with the nervous system that controls the dilation of blood vessels. This nervous system is called the autonomic nervous system.

Autnomic Nervous System
Autnomic Nervous System

Because of this failure to control dilation, blood vessels become closer to the skin then usual. As a result of this vasodilation, the blood vessels conduct more heat on the skin and therefore increase the “body” temperature. Technically, one may say that drinking alcohol does increase the body temperature but how about the interior of the body? According to Dr. Willian G. Haynes, however, “Consumption of alcohol undoes many of the human body’s healthy reflexes, one of which is keeping the core body temperature warm in cold weather,” When we are cold, it is mainly because the blood vessels move towards the organs to keep the core body temperature warm. By drinking alcohol, however, the blood vessels no longer maintain the core body temperature. As a result the core temperature would actually decrease when alcohol is consumed. This was proven by The Advanced Research Center of Human Sciences in the University of Waseda. They conducted a research in which same amount of alcohol with equal concentration was given to the test subjects and recorded the affects on the temperature. In the end, the subjects core temperature decreased by 0.3C. Also, their experiment proved that this decrease in core temperature was not only because of the skin vasodilation but also the behavior of the subject.  In conclusion although alcohol increases the temperature at periphery of the body, the essential core temperature decreases due to the person’s behavior and the skin vasodilation. If 50% of the world’s population hold this misconception that alcohol will keep you warm, 50% of the world would face the danger of making the

Hypothermia
Hypothermia

wrong decision. When alcohol is consumed during the cold season, the person could encounter the danger of hypothermia,which is caused around 33-77% by alcohol consumption, and even death. That is why it is important for people to know about this. Just by correcting the misconception, death could be prevented.

Work Cited

“Effects of alcohol on thermoregulation during mild heat exposure in humans. .” Advanced Research Center for Human Sciences (2005): n. pag. Web. 4 Nov 2010. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16377461>

Freudenrich, Craig. “How alcohol works.” How Stuff works n. pag. Web. 1 Nov 2010. <http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/drugs-alcohol/alcohol10.htm>.

G. Haynes, Wiliam. “Effects of alcohol in the cold.” University of Iowa November 2000: n. pag. Web. 1 Nov 2010. <http://www.uihealthcare.com/topics/medicaldepartments/pharmacy/alcoholandcold/index.html>

“Hypothermia.” Wikepedia n. pag. Web. 1 Nov 2010. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypothermia#Alcohol>.

P. Dunlap, Michaele. “Biological Impacts Of Alcohol Use: An Overview.” Oregon Counseling n. pag. Web. 1 Nov 2010. <http://www.oregoncounseling.org/ArticlesPapers/Documents/ETOHBIOFx.htm>