Device that converts chemical energy of a fuel directly into electricity (see electrochemistry). Fuel cells are intrinsically more efficient than most other energy-conversion devices. Electrolytic chemical reactions cause electrons to be released on one electrode and flow through an external circuit to a second electrode. Whereas in batteries the electrodes are the source of the active ingredients, which are altered and depleted during the reaction, in fuel cells the gas or liquid fuel (often hydrogen, methyl alcohol, hydrazine, or a simple hydrocarbon) is supplied continuously to one electrode and oxygen or air to the other from an external source. So, as long as fuel and oxidant are supplied, the fuel cell will not run down or require recharging. Fuel cells can be used in place of virtually any other source of electricity. They are especially being developed for use in electric automobiles, in the hope of achieving enormous reductions in pollution.
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