Fuel Cell FAQs

Common Questions About Fuel Cells

When was the first fuel cell invented?

  • In 1838, German scientist Christian Friedrich Schönbein discovered the principle of the fuel cell.
  • In the February 1839 edition of the Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, Welsh scientist and barrister Sir William Robert Grove demonstrated the first fuel cell based on Schönbein’s work.
  • In 1939, British engineer Francis Thomas Bacon successfully developed a 5 kW stationary fuel cell.

What is a fuel cell?

A fuel cell is a device that converts the chemical energy from a fuel into electricity through a chemical reaction with oxygen or another oxidizing agent. Hydrogen is the most common fuel, but hydrocarbons such as natural gas and alcohols like methanol are sometimes used. Fuel cells are different from batteries in that they require a constant source of fuel and oxygen/air to sustain the chemical reaction, they can however produce electricity continually for as long as these inputs are supplied.

How does a fuel cell differ from a battery?

A fuel cell is different from a battery cell in that reactants are constantly supplied to a fuel cell making it an open system whereas a battery cell is a closed system that stores the reactants within it. A fuel cell works as long as fuel is supplied to it whereas a battery cell requires regular replacements.

Can I buy a fuel cell?

Yes, anyone can purchase a fuel cell.  You can actually purchase them straight from our store website here.

How much does a fuel cell cost to operate?

Besides the routine maintenance of a fuel cell the main cost that will occur with be the consumption of hydrogen.  The amount of hydrogen you use is dependent on the amount of energy you expect to consume.

Below are example calculations for determining the cost of operating a 1kW fuel cell on hydrogen. In these examples a compressed hydrogen cylinder with a capacity of 200 cubic feet of hydrogen at normal temperature and pressure (NTP) is used. The purity of hydrogen consumed is 99.99999%.

 

Calculation:

1. Compressed hydrogen cylinder – 200 cu.ft. of hydrogen (NTP) or 5667.37 Liters.
2. Cost of hydrogen cylinder is $100 + $14/month (rental) +$20 (delivery)
3. 1kW fuel cell system with a hydrogen consumption rate of 13 Standard Liter/min.
4. Number of hours of operation at 1kW = 5667.37/13 = 7.26 hours

Costs: Example 1

The cost of operating a 1kW fuel cell for 7.26 hours when only one cylinder is purchased per month is $134.
This is equivalent to $18.40 per hour to operate at one kilowatt.

Costs: Example 2

When the number of hydrogen cylinders used is increased, then the cost is reduced. Assuming that 5 cylinders of hydrogen are consumed in one month, this gives 7.26 x 5 = 36.33 hours of operation. The cost of the cylinders is (5 x $100) + (5 x $14) + $20 = $590.
This is equivalent to $16.24 per hour to operate at one kilowatt.

What are the benefits of using a fuel cell?

  • Low-to-Zero Emissions
  • High Efficiency Reliability
  • High Quality Power
  • Fuel Flexibility
  • Energy Security
  • Lightweight
  • Technology Compatibility
  • Quiet Operation
  • Scalability
  • Durability