Yeah fuel cells have had a fairly high impact, and have high potentials also.
These are my 2007 HSC notes on the Fuel Cell:
Impact on society:
Fuel cells have allowed applications to be performed with ease in people’s lives in the present and also for future applications such as the use in transport vehicles and portable devices. It has allowed humans to explore space using spacecrafts and space shuttle programs, thus the human knowledge of the cosmos has increased.
It has also benefited society because when electricity is generated with fuel cells installed in a household, transmission loss is reduced, and heat is produced which can also be used efficiently throughout the household.
As it is a source of electrical energy and water, it is environmentally friendly where no waste products are produced. Fuel cells do not "burn” fuel (do not involve combustion) like many common fuels such as methane and natural gas, so emissions like nitrous oxide and carbon dixiode are reduced. Due to its cleanliness it has made the future capable of a healthier and cleaner environment, which can allow society’s transition into the future to be a secure and renewable energy based society.
Fuel cells are extremely suitable for its purposes mainly due to the combination of its energy source being clean, compact, lightweight, has no major moving parts, high fuel efficiency, high power density, and 80-100% reliability. They are able to operate quietly without the need frequent maintenance, and they emit little pollution, which makes large and global scale applications such as residential housing and transport vehicles to be very suitable and appropriate. Due to the fuel cell’s unique technology, they have the potential to replace present batteries in modern high technology devices and even diesel engines, to provide continuous power for these devices, in an environmentally friendly way. As these cells are based on the use of hydrogen (that does not contribute to any harm to the environment) they can store and release hydrogen in a safe and practical new way, so new portable devices could run on the long-lasting and easily recharged fuel cells. Fuel cells are also currently the favoured technology of the future for many applications such as small electric power plants.
Future applications include powering automobile vehicles so that they will run entirely on a renewable energy source consisting primarily of hydrogen and oxygen in, and pure water out, and so that they are extremely quiet with little vibration. In the present, this is becoming a reality as automotive companies are developing fuel cell vehicles and extensive research is being done on the hydrogen tanks for the fuel storage and new fuel cell-based engines, which may replace the contemporary diesel engines.
Fuel cells could also power homes and office buildings more efficiently and with significantly less impact on the environment than from the use of fossil fuels as the primary energy source. Fuel cell technology could also end energy shortages and reduce society’s heavy reliance and demand on oil and fuels. Fuel cells could also permanently replace current batteries in modern high technological devices, to provide continuous, efficient power.
It has been estimated that within just a few years, new computer , laptop, communication appliances and other energy-needing portable devices could run on the long-lasting, easily recharged fuel cells, in which the technology is based on a safe and practical new way of storing and releasing hydrogen.
As the fuel cell operation consists mainly of natural oxygen and hydrogen in, and pure water out, these chemicals are completely harmless to the environment. Hydrogen is the most abundant fuel in the world, as it can be extracted from renewable energy sources, such as the sun, wind, water and biomass, as well as from traditional energy sources such as oil and natural gas. This decreases the level of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, which then reduces the greenhouse effect, and will ultimately preserve the environment’s natural aspects. Fuel cells are highly suitable because they present a clean, efficient alternative for some of society’s energy needs. They are a versatile type of energy source as they also work at room temperature, have the potential to become small (thus formation of more complex miniature appliances), therefore they will have a quicker recharge system. They are stable and they also cost-effective and have high economic values because they generate more electricity for its weight than the best commercial batteries.
As stated before, it is the favoured technology of the future for certain appliances such as small electric power plants.
Future fuel cell based automobiles will run quietly, need infrequent maintenance, emit little pollution and will have high efficiency levels. As with most types of cell, they have limits where they cannot last infinitely without a supply of the initial chemicals/sources, which are needed to operate the cell. Fuel cells need to periodically be supplied with new liquid fuel injected into it, which is different to other types of batteries where the “used” batteries are just simply dispose of. Thus this leads to less production of batteries.
Fuel cells are reliable, efficient and simple to use, quiet in operation, and has low production levels of pollution