While there’s been much hype about making cars that run on fuel cells, an Iowa State University researcher is studying the use of such alternative energy sources to power our homes and offices. Russ Walters, an ISU professor of civil and construction engineering, says the current fuel cells are big and heavy, making them undesirable for cars, so the advantage for using them in houses and businesses is the issue of weight. Walters says in the present state, fuel cells are just too heavy for automobile use. He says a typical house could be run on a fuel cell about the size of a standard air conditioner. It would provide continuous electricity for up to ten years — but cost is still a prime concern. Walters says fuel cells produce power more efficiently than most other traditional means and they do so without producing air pollutants. While $30,000 is too much for a typical homeowner to pay now, Walters says the price will drop significantly as the technology develops — much like personal computers, C-D players and V-C-Rs have done in recent years. Walters says a fuel cell is basically a battery in the sense it produces electricity by a chemical process, not by combustion. It essentially takes a source like hydrogen and produces electricity. Walters says fuel cells would be economical in certain circumstances, for example, in businesses that place a high value on power availabililty like banks and telephone switching stations.
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