Researchers have wanted to use fuel cells to capture carbon dioxide since the early 1990s, and now that the cells are cheaper and last longer, the tactic may be more practical. Carbon dioxide might be removed from exhaust gasses of fossil fuel power plants by harnessing electrochemical reactions that occur inside fuel cells to generate electricity.
Carbon capture technology, aimed at reducing emissions from power plants, might be solution to addressing climate change, especially since fossil-fuel power is growing faster than power from low-carbon sources such as wind, solar, and nuclear.
While other carbon-capture technologies decrease the amount of electricity, and revenue that a power plant generates, the use of fuel cells increases power production. The process only works with molten carbonate fuel cells.
To date, the technology has only been demonstrated on a small scale in a laboratory setting. Department of Energy funding will be used to build larger systems to capture carbon dioxide. Experts are not sure how successful the carbon capture systems will be.
Exhaust gases from power plants are contaminated with sulfur and pollutants that might interfere with the function of a fuel cell. The costs are indeterminable and are based on how much the gases need to be cleaned up before they are introduced into a fuel cell.
Fuel cells might address challenge to using carbon dioxide to enhance oil recovery. Fuel cells could be used at the site of an oil well to generate electricity from gases that are produced along with the oil to produce carbon dioxide that could then be captured and piped underground to help free oil. Then the well could be capped, trapping carbon dioxide underground.
Net carbon dioxide emissions involved in using carbon dioxide to increase oil production are not clear and the positives of trapping carbon dioxide underground would be counterbalanced by increased carbon dioxide emissions from the oil.