A fuel cell is a device that converts the chemical energy from a fuel into electricity through a chemical reaction with oxygen or another oxidizing agent.
Fossil fuels such as crude oil and bituminous coal can take more than a million years to form. On the other hand, wood and other types of biomass can be grown in a matter of years, and are available almost anywhere. Properly managed biomass constitutes an important, affordable, and renewable source of energy for the entire planet.
A metal-supported solid oxide fuel cell has been developed that can harness the chemical energy stored in plants to directly produce electricity through a reaction that is essentially a mirror of the plant’s natural process of photosynthesis. Plants convert sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into carbon compounds and oxygen. Solid oxide fuel cells are able to capture these carbon compounds to produce electricity.
A novel application of the technology is an ingenious fuel cell charger that obtains it’s chemical energy from burning wood or charcoal. The charger may be used to power an LED light, radio or even to recharge mobile telephones.
The potential of the fuel cell technology to materially improve the quality of life for people living without grid electricity in the developing nations is difficult to overstate.