Get answers to frequently asked questions about Johnson Matthey Fuel Cells
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A fuel cell is an electrochemical device that produces electricity and heat from a fuel (often hydrogen) and oxygen (usually from the air). Unlike a conventional engine, it does this without burning the fuel and is both cleaner and more efficient. For more information, please go to the Fuel Cell Today website.
There are a number of types of fuel cell which are normally distinguished by their operating temperature and the electrolyte that they contain. The best-known types are proton exchange membrane fuel cells (hydrogen ~80°C and methanol 60-130°C) alkaline fuel cells (60-90°C), phosphoric acid fuel cells (200°C), molten carbonate fuel cells (650°C) and solid oxide fuel cells (1000°C). For more information, please go to the Fuel Cell Today website.
Fuel cells were initially demonstrated in 1839 by Sir William Grove. A truly workable fuel cell was not demonstrated until 1959, however, in NASA's space programme. Serious market interest in fuel cells started in the 1990s when research and development started to lead towards greater prospects of commercialisation for automotive and other applications. For more information, please go to the Fuel Cell Today website.
Most fuel cells use hydrogen or methanol within their electrochemical reactions. Hydrogen can be readily produced from a variety of commercial fuels (e.g. gasoline, LPG, natural gas or methanol) or by electrolysis of water. For more information, please go to the Fuel Cell Today website.
Yes. Commercial fuel cells are available for portable units (<100W), Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)/back up units (2-20 kWe) and large stationary units (>50kWe). Development is continuing for many other applications. Educational fuel cells are also available for classroom work. For more information, please go to the Fuel Cell Today website. To buy fuel cell components, such as Membrane Electrode Assemblies (MEAs) or catalysts, please see our
How to Buy section.
Fuel cells have a number of advantages over other technologies for power generation. They have the potential to use less fuel than competing technologies and to emit no pollutants when used. There are also site-specific and application-specific reasons why fuel cells can be superior to existing technology; e.g. high quality power (especially useful for electronics applications), silent operation and low thermal signature (useful for military applications). For more information, please go to the Fuel Cell Today website.
In principle, a fuel cell could power any device that requires electrical energy to function. This could range from cars and buses, laptops and mobile phones up to houses and factories. Recent developments have suggested that portable computers may be the next commercial application. For more information, please go to the Fuel Cell Today website.
A battery produces electricity from the chemical energy stored within it, whilst a fuel cell produces electricity by reacting a fuel and air. A battery will therefore run out of power and have to be recharged or disposed of. A fuel cell, however, will continue to function and produce power as long as the fuel and air are supplied to it. For more information, please go to the Fuel Cell Today website.
Like any other fuel, hydrogen is flammable and is therefore handled appropriately. Other widely used fuels such as gasoline, diesel and natural gas are also flammable but, of course, are handled appropriately with the correct safety features. Hydrogen also has some advantages: it is non-toxic and readily disperses. For more information, please go to the Fuel Cell Today website.
A fuel cell is not a power source but rather a power conversion device: they use an externally supplied fuel and air to produce power. When the fuel (e.g. hydrogen or methanol) is obtained from renewable sources, then fuel cells are an integral link in the renewable energy chain. Hydrogen can be used to store energy produced intermittently (e.g. from wind, wave or solar power) and fuel cells convert this hydrogen back to electrical power on demand. For more information, please go to the Fuel Cell Today website.