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Fuel Cells as an Attempt of a Capitalist Technological Fix.

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Fuel Cells as an Attempt of a Capitalist Technological Fix

One of the main variables used when measuring the ecological impact of a given society, populous, or nation is the variable of technology. Currently, in a world rightfully beseeched with an uncomfortable mix caution and fear of potential future ecological catastrophe, alternative energy sources are being discussed, researched and developed in many advanced industrialized nations as potential ways to technologically postpone or perhaps even fix a major impending crisis of global Capitalism. Prospects of continuing our current energy system for any long term or sustainable amount of time look to be non-existent since it is based largely on non-renewable fossil fuels that will run out sometime in the next century or so, and as they do, it will be necessary for humans to shift to something for a main source of energy (Harper 2001: 243). Possibilities include solar energy, wind power, increased use of hydroelectric power, and, as this paper will focus on, new technologies such as fuel cells.

Fuel cells can be technically defined as:

"basically a simple device, consisting of two electrodes (anode and cathode) that sandwich an electrolyte (a specialized polymer or other material that allows ions to pass but blocks electrons). A fuel containing hydrogen flows to the anode where the hydrogen electrons are freed, leaving positively charged ions. The electrons travel through an external circuit while the ions diffuse through the electrolyte. At the cathode, the electrons combine with the hydrogen ion and oxygen to form water." (Retseck 1999: ??)

In other words, electricity is made by combining hydrogen (contained within the fuel source) with oxygen from outside air. The main two by-products of this process are heat and water (Motavalli 2000: 55), although some models also produce carbon dioxide (Climate 1999: 3). Usually, heat is lost, which leads to great losses in efficiency (Motavalli 2000: 55). However, with the properly designed fuel cell, the majority of heat can be captured and reused, creating a double gain in efficiency, in that less energy is lost due to heat, and less energy is needed as the initial energy is partially reused (ibid).

Environmentally speaking, this offers many great advantages over other fuel systems, namely, the internal combustion engine that is currently used in automobiles in America. Primarily, fuel cells will not produce nearly as many pollutants. Water is the main waste product, which does no harm to the atmosphere when given off.
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