Energy nation

Hydrogen fuel cells

Status: Renewable if the hydrogen fuel is created using electricity from renewable sources

What are they?

Water is a compound of hydrogen and oxygen. If you pass an electric current through water, its bonds can break, turning it back into hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen and oxygen are released as gases. This is called electrolysis.  BUT a fuel cell is a device that uses this process in reverse.

How are they used to generate electricity?

They convert hydrogen and oxygen into water, producing electricity and heat. 

Where can you find it?

In theory, it is possible to use the oxygen in the air, and the hydrogen in water.  


Advantages and disadvantages of using hydrogen fuel cells to generate electricity


  • The only wastes produced are water and some heat, which can be reclaimed
  • Operation is entirely silent
  • Fuel cells can be built in a huge range of sizes to suit almost any use


  • Fuel cells rely on hydrogen fuel, which may be produced using non-renewable energy sources
  • It will be some time before hydrogen is as freely available as petrol is at the moment
  • Hydrogen is highly flammable

How many plants in the UK?

There are a handful of small-scale plants in the UK that supply single or small groups of buildings.

The future?

It has great potential for small-scale use, but it is unlikely that the UK will develop any large-scale plants in the near future.