So, you have bought a Fuel Cell and are ready to start using it.
Or are you?
Did you plan on any of the ancillary components you might need? Depending on who you buy the fuel cell from and what model it is will determine what components come with the fuel cell and what you will need to buy. In general, a fuel cell system needs several things in order for it to work in any system:
- Hydrogen storage (which may also include H2 production)
- Fuel Cell system
- Power conditioning
Even if you are generating your hydrogen on-site, you will almost certainly need some hydrogen storage. There are several different options for storage, including:
- Compressed H2 tanks
- Liquid H2 tanks
- Metal Hydrides
- Other, less common storage methods (liquid storage, sodium borohydride, etc)
Each of these have their own advantages and are best suited for different applications (more on this another day). However, for most applications, Compressed H2 storage is the easiest, most economical and most readily available method. This could be simple H2 cylinders from your local welding or gas supply shop (be sure the purity is suitable for your fuel cell), or more advanced carbon fiber cylinders from suppliers like Dynetec, Worthington Cylinders (formerly SCI), Lincoln Composites, and others. Don’t forget to make sure you have a regulator to go from the tank pressure down to the operating pressure of the Fuel Cell (some tanks have these integrated, some don’t). You will probably also need a refueling port or at least a fitting to re-fill your tanks with.
For more information on hydrogen storage read our tech article: What Hydrogen Store is Best for Me?
There are many fuel cell manufacturers out there that make their own fuel cells systems such as Pearl Hydrogen, which you can buy from us; other hydrogen fuel cell companies include: Heliocentris, Horizon Fuel Cells, and Hydrogenics (among others - fuelcells.org has an excellent list of fuel cell companies). When reviewing each fuel cell system you need to be sure that you understand what each system includes in order to be certain that you will have everything you need to operate when your fuel cell system arrives.
Power conditioning is basically electronics that take the direct current (DC) voltage from the fuel cell which will fluctuate depending on the load and converts it into a stable voltage of your choosing (either AC or DC). Depending on the amount of power you are dealing with and your end requirements this could be as simple as a low-cost DC/DC converter or DC/AC inverter from any electronics shop to a full custom, multiple voltage power controller costing $20,000 and up.
You may also want some H2 sensors to detect any leaks and safely shut the system down if it does. Again, some fuel cell systems may incorporate these into their packaging, others may not. In any case, if you are putting the tank and/or fuel cell in any kind of enclosure, you will need sensors and safety equipment.
Note: Any inclusion of suppliers/manufacturers is not meant to be exhaustive or interpreted as an endorsement or recommendation of their products. These are all companies and suppliers that came to my mind first. I know there may be others in each category that could fit your requirements better than the ones I have listed. This is meant as a guide to help you get started. As always, if you need any additional help or have questions you are welcome to post a comment or write to us directly at AskUs@FuelCellsEtc.com