How to Build a Hydrogen Fuel Cell
A fuel cell is a device that converts electrochemical energy into electricity. A hydrogen fuel cell
produces water from hydrogen and oxygen and, in the process, generating electricity.
You might be more familiar with another electrochemical cell called a battery. With a battery however, all its
chemicals are stockpiled inside, which it converts into electricity. This also means that it will ‘go dead’ and.
You’ll either recharge it or dump it.
As for a fuel cell, it never goes dead because the chemicals constantly flow into the cell, while electricity
flows out. Majority of fuel cells in use currently use hydrogen and oxygen. Other chemicals that can be used
include alcohol, gasoline, and methane.
Hydrogen fuel cells are used in high-tech applications, as well as spacecraft, because they are pollution free
and are efficient sources of energy. Hydrogen doesn’t exist entirely on its own, thus it has to be extracted from
Its pretty easy to assemble a hydrogen cell; we’ll look at the steps to assemble a home-made hydrogen cell. You
will need the following materials:
- A foot-long platinum coated nickel wire (pure platinum is not easy to find)
- A piece of wood or popsicle stick
- A 9-volt battery and a battery clip
- Transparent tape
The first step is to make two 6-inch long wire pieces by cutting the platinum wire into two. Make coiled springs
by winding the two wires; these will be the electrodes in the fuel cell. Use a nail or an ice pick as a coil form
to wind the wires.
When you’ve got your electrodes, get the battery clip and cut the leads in half, then peel off the insulation at
the cut ends. Curl the exposed battery lead wires around the ends of the platinum coated electrodes. The battery
clip is to be fastened to the electrodes, as well as two other wires which will connect to the volt-meter.
The next step is to attach the electrodes to the popsicle stick and secure them tight using tape. Place the
popsicle stick atop a glass of water such that the electrodes freely dangle in the water, with almost their entire
length immersed. Ensure that the twisted wire connections do not touch the water and, only the electrodes are in
water. Tape the popsicle stick on to the glass so that it’s firm.
At this point, the volt-meter should read zero when the red wire is connected to its positive terminal, and the
black wire to the negative. Its common for a small voltage to show up and read, for instance 0.01 volts.
The cell is fully assembled now, but you would need to operate it by causing hydrogen bubbles to cohere at one
electrode and oxygen bubbles to cohere to the other. To do this, you just lightly touch the battery clip to the
9-volt battery (no need to clip it).
When the battery touches the battery clip, water molecules at the electrodes split into oxygen and hydrogen,
which process is known as electrolysis. The platinum coating acts as a catalyst that makes it easier for the
hydrogen and oxygen to recombine. Hydrogen and oxygen will recombine to generate
electricity and water again, in a reverse electrolysis reaction.