A ‘Modern Technology’ More than 150 Years in the Making
Think of a fuel cell as a continuously operating battery. Whereas a battery stores and eventually runs out of electrical power, a fuel cell can generate electricity indefinitely, as long as it is provided with a fuel and oxygen. Simply put, a fuel cell is an electrochemical device that converts the chemical energy in a fuel such as hydrogen to electricity and thermal energy without combustion.
According to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, the basic science behind fuel cell technology has been around since the 1838 when Sir William Robert Grove demonstrated what he called the "gas battery," now considered the forerunner of the modern fuel cell.
Fuel cell technology never really caught on until the 1960s when NASA began using fuel cells to provide electricity aboard manned spacecraft. Information on the Kennedy Space Center’s Web site puts the first fuel cell aboard Gemini 5, which was launched in August 1965. Among the Gemini 5 mission objectives was the evaluation of the fuel cell.
Today, fuel cells promise to help California and the nation solve some of our most pressing problems;
- Dependence on foreign oil
- Poor air quality,
which in California alone is linked to thousands of premature deaths
and hospitalizations each year, and more than a million respiratory illnesses,
school absences, and lost workdays
- Greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming
Fuel cells can run on a variety of fuels and can be sited to produce and deliver electrical power just where it’s needed. They are efficient, particularly when the waste heat they produce as a byproduct is used in cogeneration or other applications.
They produce almost zero pollutant emissions, and they are extremely quiet.
For more information about fuel cell attributes, visit our members’ Web pages and see the related links page on this site.