Fuel cells are essentially batteries with consumable electrodes: a hydrogen anode and an oxygen cathode. Fuel cells’ first broad use was in space. Over the last twenty years however, there has been a push to reduce their cost to make them economically viable for stationary applications such as those envisioned for distributed generation. Though there are several types of fuel cells under development, it is the proton exchange membrane or PEM fuel cell that seems to be the closest to being an economic alternative for distributed generation applications. The biggest hurdle remaining to bringing the technology to market is the development of cost effective fuel processing equipment that will convert methane (natural gas) to the hydrogen rich fuel needed for PEM fuel cells. The likelihood of a economically viable fuel cell for stationary applications is being substantially aided by the automotive industry’s interest in the technology for hybrid vehicles.
- High efficiency for smaller sizes (> 35%)
- Remarkably low emissions
- Availability of low quality heat
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