Hydrogen Fuel Cell
Vinod Gupta School of Managment
Since long we are looking forward to unconventional sources of energy. We have started using many
such sources but the cost of energy generation has not reduced to the point that they can substitute
conventional sources. Many trails are going on in different direction out one is Hydrogen fuel cell. Fist
such cell was developed in 1955 but economics never let this source to come into picture. But with
recent developments going on, now this source of energy is coming back as good candidate among
rest of unconventional energy sources. In this report we are analysing how much impact these
developments can bring in economics of energy sector. What are current trends and new possibilities
which lead me to visualise a new reality in the area of business and technology.
Conventional sources of energy are not going to last very long, since long time we are searching for
unconventional sources of energy, and this search is going on. We have got many substitute of
conventional energy, many technological breakthroughs took place. We saw sun as a major source of
energy. As per the calculation the amount that sun was dissipating in one second entire human
civilization has not used that energy till now. Silicon was an abundant element on earth and
photovoltaic cells to generate can be manufactured this material, but till now we could not make solar
energy an economical source of energy. There are many issues involved in this that we will discuss in
this paper. In 1813 Rivaz thought that in the whole universe Hydrogen is an abundant element can we
use it for our energy. He came with auto-mobile with this engine, fuelled by hydrogen gas. Unlike oil
and petroleum, hydrogen as a combustive fuel presents the many advantage like; wide range of
flammability, small quenching distance, low ignition energy, high auto ignition temperature, very low
density or in other words light weight, high flame speed, high diffusivity and. These all things made it
a very good substitute for consideration as a good source and of its application in an internal
combustion engine. Although enthalpy of combustion for hydrogen is −286 kJ/mol still due to other
issues like combustion engine efficiency and economic reasons, hydrogen is not a good substitute in
Whatever efforts we make if economic viability is not in our favour even big technological inventions
don’t get realised by the world. One such episode took place when in 1838 the principle of the fuel cell
was discovered by a German scientist named Christian Friedrich Schönbein. His principle was
published in some scientific magazines of the time. From his study Sir William Robert Grove took
inspiration and he introduced first fuel cell in 1839. This year is regarded as the birth date of the fuel
cell, we know Sir William Robert Grove as “Father of the Fuel Cell”. Since then any technological
advancements keep on taking place but fuel cell was never seen as substitute for mass energy. It’s
application was limited to scientific experiments only.
In 1955 a chemist working for the General
Electric Company (GE) named W. Thomas Grubb, further modified the design of original fuel cell by
the use of sulphonated polystyrene ion-exchange membrane as the electrolyte. Then many other
modifications took place and GE went on developing this technology with McDonnell Aircraft and
NASA. This lead to use of fuel cell in an esteemed project called Project Gemini. It is said that it was
the first commercial use of a fuel cell. But economy was not in favour of fuel cell. Since then with
every new technological advancement the usage and importance of fuel cell increased. And now with
recent developments the fuel cell appears to be ahead of all green energy substitutes. Now a days
economic viability cannot be estimated very easily as complex technological advancement in one field
are not sufficient to create a big change it needs to be backed by many other technological changes.
Hydrogen economy is the term coined by John Bockris which now many see as something which has
the potential to modify and re-define the business and economic landscape of the world. In this paper
now we will see what fuel cell is and what are the technological advancement which took place in
recent year which if supported by mass production will make fuel cell very economical.
What is Fuel Cell?
Most of the sources of energy that we see are combustible which leads to pollution hydrogen was one
such substance that if burned lead to water not any greenhouse gas. This was a green substance but
when we try to convert this energy into electrical energy there comes inefficiency of conversion which
finally makes it a costly source of energy. Fuel cell is something very similar to battery but the unlike
normal battery the chemicals are not part of battery, in fuel cell you let the chemical go inside a cell
which provides conducive conditions for reaction to take place then the products of reaction come out
of cell. A fuel cell is an electrochemical cell that converts a source fuel into an electric current with the
help of electrolyte, catalyst and different types of cathode and anode materials. A fuel cell transforms
the chemical energy liberated during the electrochemical reaction of hydrogen and oxygen
to electrical energy unlike direct combustion of hydrogen and oxygen gases which lead to production
of thermal energy.
Fuel cell generates electricity inside a cell through reactions between a fuel and
an oxidant, which is triggered in the presence of an electrolyte. The reactants mainly hydrogen or
other hydrocarbons flow into the cell and the reaction products mainly water flow out of it, while the
electrolyte remains within cell.
At the Anode:
At the cathode:
Fuel cells can operate continuously as long as the necessary reactant (hydrogen or hydrocarbons)
and oxidant flows are maintained without bothering about electrolyte. Fuel cells are different from
conventional electrochemical cell batteries
mainly in terms thermodynamically closed and
open system. In case of fuel cell it consumes
reactant from an external source and the flow
has to be maintained. While in case of batteries
it stores electrical energy in the form of
chemicals and hence it represents a closed
Many combinations of fuels and oxidants are possible in fuel cells. A hydrogen fuel cell
uses hydrogen as its fuel and oxygen as its oxidant. The oxidants are either oxygen
or chlorine and chlorine dioxide. In case of oxygen it can be supplied either directly from air or pure
oxygen by special arrangements. There are other cells that use hydrocarbons and alcohols as fuel.
Classification of Fuel Cell
The main classification of fuel cells is based on fuel or oxidants used, or temperature range
(construction), material of cathode and anode, type of electrolytic material used. Following are some
popular fuel cell used.
Following classification are not rigid as one fuel cell under a classification at
the same time can be under other classification.
1) SOFC - Solid oxide fuel cell
2) MCFC - Molten carbonate fuel cells
3) AFC - Alkaline Fuel Cells
4) PEFC - Proton exchange fuel cells
5) PAFC -Phosphoric Acid Fuel Cells
6) RFC -Regenerative Fuel Cells
7) DAFC – Direct Alcohol fuel cell.
1) SOFC – It use solid oxide or ceramic as electrolyte. Its main advantages are high efficiency, long-
term stability, fuel flexibility, low emissions, and relatively low cost. While disadvantages are
high operating temperature which results in longer start-up times and mechanical and chemical
2) MCFC - Molten carbonate fuel cells are used for industrial and military applications. MCFCs use
an electrolyte composed of a molten carbonate salt mixture suspended in a porous, chemically
inert ceramic matrix of beta-alumina solid electrolyte. Due to its high temperature operation range
non-precious metals can be used as catalysts at the anode and cathode, reducing costs.
3) AFC - is one of the most developed fuel cell technologies and is the one cell that flew Man to
the Moon. NASA has used alkaline fuel cells since the mid-1960s including the moon missions. It
is among most fuel efficient fuel cell, it consumes hydrogen and pure oxygen
4) PEM - Polymer Electrolyte Membrane also known as Proton exchange fuel cells are most popular
fuel cells. It uses a solid polymer as an electrolyte and porous carbon electrodes containing a
platinum catalyst A stream of hydrogen is goes to the anode side of the membrane electrode
assembly (MEA) where it is catalytically split into protons and electrons.
5) PAFC - The electrodes of PAFC are made of carbon paper coated with a finely
dispersed platinum catalyst. It is not affected by carbon monoxide impurities in the hydrogenstream.
Since phosphoric acid solidifies at a temperature of 40 °C, it makes start-up difficult. Platinum make s
them expensive to manufacture.
6) RFC - Regenerative fuel cell or reverse fuel cell runs in reverse mode, which consumes electricity
and chemical to produce another chemical. By definition and theoretical understanding, the process of
any fuel cell could be reversed however standard fuel cells operated backwards generally do not
make very efficient systems unless they are purpose-built to do so.
7) This fuel cell was largely overlooked because its efficiency was below 25%. In 1999 there was a
marked shift away from developing the PEFC in favour of the DAFC after which several companies
around the world started working on DAFC.
In this type of fuel cell, either methyl or ethyl alcohol is
not reformed into hydrogen gas but is used directly in a very simple type of fuel cell. Its operating
temperature of 50-100°C is ideal for tiny to midsiz e applications. Its electrolyte is a liquid alkaline or a
polymer material. Most companies pursued the PEFC because of its higher efficiency and power
density. There has been tremendous progress since 1999 now efficiencies of the DMFC are much
higher and predicted efficiencies in the future may be as high as 40%
Name of Fuel Cell Electrolyte
Metal hydride fuel cell Aqueous alkaline solution -ve 20 to 0
Direct formic acid fuel cell Polymer membrane (ionomer) < 40
Zinc-air battery Aqueous alkaline solution < 40
Regenerative fuel cell Polymer membrane (ionomer) < 50
Direct borohydride fuel cell Aqueous alkaline solution 70
Alkaline fuel cell Aqueous alkaline solution < 80 Efficiency 60–70%
Direct methanol fuel cell Polymer membrane (ionomer) 90–120 Efficiency 20–30%
Direct-ethanol fuel cell Polymer membrane (ionomer) > 25
Proton exchange membrane
Polymer membrane (ionomer)
Phosphoric acid fuel cell
150-200 Efficiency 55%
What new is coming?
June 2010 - Mani Narayanasamy, Vice-President - R&D, Ingsman India, an energy and fuel cell
research company provides technology for defence organisations for military applications, is very
optimistic about use of fuel cell.
September 2010 - P. Ragunathan, Head, Fuel Cell Section, Heavy Water Division Bhabha Atomic
Research Centre (BARC), Trombay says “Hydrogen is the fuel for the future”.
September 2010 - Mr. Green head UK Energy Programme Engineering and Physical Sciences
Research Council EPSRC and the Department of Science and Technology (DST) declared that they
would soon call for joint projects worth £ 6 million in next generation, environment-friendly fuel cell
October 2010 - Murali Arikara, Executive Vice-President - Emerging Markets, Intelligent Energy, U.K.
stated that fuel cell technology has a huge market. He says “Currently in India market of diesel
generators running the cell-phone towers is that of $ 2 billion. Increase in diesel price will push the
cost factor higher. A hydrogen-powered car could be ten times costlier than a car with an internal
combustion engine.” Scientists like Anthony Kucernak are precisely on it. A professor of Chemical
Physics at Imperial College in London, Mr. Kucernak is a principal investigator in 11 EPSCRC
projects. His Flexible Fuel Cell was rated one out of 13 proposals and Alkaline Polymer Electrolyte
Fuel Cells rated one out of 55 proposals considered by EPSCRC.
What is that which making so much movements in world of fuel cell? Let us see.
Developments in world of fuel cell are leading to new diagnostic techniques to help optimise cost and
lifetime of fuel cell systems. Many changes are looking at a new geometry of fuel cells. The ability to
support new catalysts and supports which reduce the cost, increase durability, improve the
performance and increase the stability of catalysts systems is important. We know that for any
commercial purpose single cell is of no use. To generate voltage we need to arrange many fuel cells
in a series. Similarly to generate required current you need to arrange cell in parallel system. When
cells are arrange in series the current from series becomes function of weakest performing cell.
Therefore current geometrical design of common fuel cells was not fault tolerant, and for smooth
functioning it required that all components should operate in an ideal manner. As the weakest link in
the fuel cell chain dictates performance and reliability it is necessary to identify such cells for high
reliability. In this direction Prof Kucernak is working on flexible fuel cell technology to remove this
Flexible fuel cell concept given by Mr Kucernak
This concept requires to design a fuel cell stack so that we can "switch out" bad units and allow the
fuel cell to continue operation. Such a fuel cell stack would then show fault tolerance and resilience to
adverse environmental and internal influences. Indeed it might even be possible to check poorly
performing electrodes, and repair them so that they can work normally. In a nut-shell the purpose of
this project is to radically redesign fuel cells operation. As per the project we can integrate the power
control electronics directly with the fuel cell. Not much detail are available but we can say that this
configuration will allow us to have much greater control of the fuel cell operation as compared to the
configuration used almost exclusively everywhere else. Project claims that we can achieve significant
space savings and a decrease in the cost of the controlling electronics.
In order to produce this new type of fuel cell, requirement is that a very tight coupling between both
Chemistry and Chemical Engineering aspects should come up. The development of new types of
electrodes is guided by some subtle concepts of chemistry associated with the production of 'through-
membrane' connectors. The integration of electrodes into a stack requires a radically different type of
housing. Such work must be carefully guided by modelling and simulation tools, and the results need
to be fed back to optimise the electrodes design. What we require is a close cooperation between
both chemists and engineers in order to ensure the success of the project.
In recent developments the research team is getting assistance by four collaborating external
partners. These collaborators will assist the teams for developing fuel cell system and representing a
balanced team representing the development chain a technology transfer company. Imperial
Innovations Ltd will manage the commercialisation of this work out of Imperial. Applied intellectual
Capital, an applications developer will define the market and establish precise operational
requirements. SPC Technologies Ltd, materials supplier / developer will supply sample materials for
use as flow fields and sealant material and will also contribute expertise on the processing of porous
plastics. The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory will test the robust lightweight design
against requirements for infantry missions.
Other New possible areas
A new fuel cell system, based on alkaline conducting membranes is an important area in reducing the
total cost of fuel cells and developing new markets. My opinion is that getting cheaper alkaline is very
much possible and research in this direction is progressing.
In DMFC issue of fuel crossing over from the anode to the cathode without producing electricity was
one problem that has been resolved. There were concerns about the poisonous aspects of methanol
but it is replaced by ethanol. Now I believe that getting ethanol is not economically difficult task, as
many companies are working on developing cheaper technology to get ethanol from plants just one
development in this direction will lead to a big change. So we can see that any of the above
development can trigger a huge change in world of energy.
Pure platinum alternative promises breakthrough in fuel cell technology
In direction of reduction in cost of fuel cell one direction is reducing the cost of material used. In this
direction with the help of nanoparticles technology has achieved a big success. One of the most
expensive elements used in most fuel cells is platinum, but now researchers have created a unique
core and shell nanoparticle that uses far less platinum then required before. At the same time it
performs more efficiently and lasts longer than commercially available pure-platinum catalysts at the
cathode end of fuel cell reactions.
The oxygen reduction reaction which takes place at the cathode of fuel cell creates water as its only
waste and if it is then up to 40 percent of a fuel cell’s efficiency is lost. Due to many reasons platinum
has always been the catalyst of choice for this reaction for many researchers, but it is expensive, and
the reaction causes it to break down over time. The core-shell nanoparticle developed by researchers
at Brown University and Oak Ridge National Laboratory addresses both of these problems of cost and
The team at Laboratory created a five-nanometer palladium (Pd) core and encircled it with a shell
consisting of iron and platinum (FePt). The trick was in moulding the shell that would retain its shape
and it require the smallest amount of platinum to pull off an efficient reaction. The team has created a
iron-platinum shell by decomposing iron pentacarbonyl and reducing platinum acetylacetonate to
result in a shell that uses only 30 percent platinum. Researchers claim that they expect to be able to
make thinner shells and use even less platinum.
The researchers demonstrated for the first time that they could consistently produce the unique core-
shell structures with low use of platinum. In laboratory tests, the palladium/iron-platinum nanoparticles
combination generated 12 times more current than commercially available pure-platinum catalysts at
the same catalyst weight. The output also remained consistent over 10,000 cycles of experiment,
which is at least ten times longer than commercially available platinum models that begin to
deteriorate after 1,000 cycles.[
The iron-platinum shells created by team varied in width from one to three nanometres. It was found
in laboratory tests that the one-nanometre shells performed best. The next step is to scale them up for
commercial use at low prices, and researchers are confident we’ll be able to do that.
Mazumder and Shouheng Sun, professor of chemistry at Brown University, think that palladium core
increases the catalytic abilities of iron platinum has something to do with the transfer of electrons
between the core and shell metals. They are studying why the palladium core increases the catalytic
abilities of iron platinum. To that end, they are trying to use metals that are chemically more active
than palladium as the core to confirm the transfer of electrons in the core-shell arrangement. They will
study its behavioural importance to the catalyst’s function.
What else fuel cell can offer?
The beauty of system lies in the fact that it is very much compatible with other technologies as well.
Australian scientists with an aim of enabling solar power to be tapped as an economic source of
energy have claim they will be able to build solar power driven hydrogen generating titanium oxide
ceramics. They say that using special titanium oxide ceramics that harvest sunlight and split water to
produce hydrogen fuel, it will then be a simple engineering exercise to make an energy-harvesting
device with no moving parts and emitting no greenhouse gases or pollutants.
Hydrogen fuel cell is compatible with other technology. Main cost driving factor in case of hydrogen
fuel cell. Researchers of University of Wisconsin claim they have developed a more efficient and less
polluting way to convert hydrocarbons into hydrogen.
The efficiency of any fuel cell is dependent on the amount of power drawn from it. Since it supplies
almost fix voltage drawing more power means drawing more current, which increases the losses in
the fuel cell. As a general rule, the more the power drew, lower the efficiency. Most losses manifest
themselves as a voltage drop in the cell which is undesired, so the efficiency of a cell is almost
proportional to its voltage. For this reason, it is very important to study polarization curves of fuel cell
and its performance on graphs of voltage versus current. A typical fuel cell running at 0.7 Voltage has
an efficiency of about 50%, meaning that 50% of the energy content of the hydrogen is converted into
electrical energy; the remaining 50% will be converted into mainly heat. Also depending on the fuel
cell system design, some fuel might leave the system un-reacted, constituting an additional loss. But
we see that modern designs do not allow this loss any more.
For a hydrogen cell operating at standard conditions with no reactant leaks (modern design) , the
efficiency is equal to the cell voltage divided by 1.47 V, based on the enthalpy, or heating value, of the
reaction. For the same cell, the second law efficiency is equal to cell voltage divided by a standard s
voltage which varies with fuel used, and quality and temperature of the cell. The difference between
these numbers (Second law results and practical results) represents the difference between the
reaction's enthalpy and Gibbs free energy. This difference always appears as heat, along with any
losses in electrical conversion efficiency but in this paper we will see how this loss can be used as
advantage of fuel cell.
Fuel cells do not operate on a normal thermal cycle. Cells are not constrained, as combustion engines
are, in the same way by thermodynamic limits, such as Carnot cycle efficiency. At times this is
misrepresented by saying that fuel cells are exempt from the laws of thermodynamics, because most
people think of thermodynamics in terms of combustion processes but the laws of thermodynamics
also hold for chemical processes (Gibbs free energy) like fuel cells as well. The maximum theoretical
efficiency is also higher in case of chemical processes. Theoretical efficiency of hydrogen oxygen
reaction 298K is approximately 83%. While Otto cycle thermal efficiency is about 60% for
compression ratio of 10 and specific heat ratio of 1.4. Comparing limits imposed by thermodynamic
laws is not a good predictor of practically achievable efficiencies but it gives future possibilities. Also,
if propulsion is the goal, electrical output of the fuel cell has to still be converted into mechanical
power which will lead to another efficiency drop. It is batter that we use hydrogen engines for
mechanical energy requirements. The claim that the limitations imposed by the second law of
thermodynamics on the operation of fuel cells are much less severe than the limitations imposed on
conventional energy conversion systems so overall fuel is more efficient is very correct.
One big issue that we kept on talking in this paper about fuel cell was that it dissipates high amount of
heat. When many high powered hydrogen fuel cells are kept together they dissipates so much heat
that separate cooling systems are needed to make sure that fuel cell will work fine. As we saw in
earlier table that different types of cell work in different rage as the temperature ranges go beyond the
limit the efficiency of cell gets effected and in many cases it erosion of plates or it can get completely
dysfunctional. This cooling system was causing another cost factor which was not in favour of fuel
But after all heat was also a source of energy, it could have been used in some other form. This
thought can lead to devising of new high power fuel cell system along with heat generator. Heat
dissipated from such cells could be used to heat water and generation of steam. Infect this idea has
started getting implemented. By research results it is found that high temperature fuel cell can be
used as a heat source in conventional heat engine i.e. gas turbine system. In this case the ultra high
efficiency of more than 70% is predicted. But in my opinion instead of gas turbine systems if we can
directly use this heat that will be batter, like as a supply of hot water in industries, hotels and
What is the economic potential of the idea?
Efficiency above hydrogen based ICE: Reiterating that efficiency of Carnot cycle cannot go high even
theoretically also when this mechanical power is converted into electrical power there comes
efficiency factor which makes use of hydrogen based or any other fuel based electric generation
highly costly. In case of electrochemical process these losses can be reduced to great extent.
When we compare the costs of different energy sources we find that point to point comparison is not
straightforward for the many reasons, but still we can make out some advantages of fuel cell.
The cost of finance: It is critical to renewable energy sources. Energy sources that utilize fossil fuels
have both upfront costs and ongoing costs (i.e. the cost of purchasing oil, gas), which means that a
substantial part of their total costs are spread over time also as time goes due to increase in prizes of
fuel ongoing cost increases. On the other hand renewable energy typically incurs a high upfront cost,
but sees extremely low ongoing costs. This means that running cost over the life of the
equipment/capital investment can vastly enhance the economics of renewable energy. Making
perditions of cost of hydrogen is very difficult.
Value of Dispatchability: Fuel cell’s energy supply is dispatchable, it means the energy supply is
guaranteed or predictable. The more predictable source is, the higher its advantages. Fossil fuel
driven power plants as well as nuclear power falls under category of dispatchable, but renewable
energy sources alone are generally not. To make an accurate comparison, the renewable energy
sources must be configured with a means of energy storage (i.e. batteries or hybrid systems,
renewable energy etc).
Fit with load curve: An energy source that produces at the time of high demand (over a period of 24
hour) has greater value to both the Utility and the Customer. Periods of peak demand are the most
expensive time because the Utility has to have that capacity available, yet that same capacity will
remain idle during other parts of the day. Solar Energy does fit with daily load peaks of evening and
nights. In winter use of heater, geyser peaks demand which solar energy is not aligned with. While in
summer air conditioning is required where solar energy sources works fine. Since we know that solar
power cannot work 24Hr a day it has to use some other support like battery for storing the power.
Now challenges associated with maintaining battery becomes part of the solar power system. But in
case of fuel cell there are no such constraints of capability and demand.
Advantage of source guarantee: Problem with most of the unconventional sources of energy is that
source availability is not guaranteed all time. It is not necessary that wind will flow round the year in
identified area nor sun is present in night time or even many times in day time. This reason leads to
use of another technology to accompany for all practical reasons. With solar power you need storage
(usually battery storage) and these additional overheads leads to increase in the cost of production.
But this is not the case with fuel cell as availability of fuel can be guaranteed. Support from other
technology is not required in fact fuel cell can very well replace battery systems used along with solar
power systems as suggested by Australian scientist about solar power driven hydrogen generating
titanium oxide ceramics technology.
Distributed generation advantages: A distributive generation can reduce or avoid the necessity to
build new transmission/distribution lines or upgrade existing ones. Such system can be configured to
meet peak power needs. It can diversify the range of energy sources in network and thus increase the
reliability of the grid network used. It can be configured to provide premium power, when coupled with
uninterruptible power supply (UPS) in batter way. This distributive system is well-suited to the use of
those energy technologies which can be located close to the user and can be installed in small
increments to match the load requirement of the customer. Fuel cells are such technology which gives
an additional edge above other unconventional sources of energy. Concentrated solar power
generations systems, wind power houses, nuclear power plants cannot be installed near location of
use, they have to be installed in appropriate locations for many reasons. Fuel cells have no such
constraints thus it can avail all the advantages that distributed generations systems gives.
Other reasons: Today's Photovoltaic devices can convert only 7%-17% of light energy into electric
energy (batter then early Photovoltaic devices which converted about 1%-2%). Other disadvantage of
solar power is panels require quite a large area for installation, relies on the location of the sun.
The biggest question is from where we will get Cheap
Cost of hydrogen fuel is the major driving factor in visualization of hydrogen economy. Hydrogen
occupies big share of abundance of elements on earth too including water, air and crust. What we
need is just a technology to produce it cheaply. Here I have discussed some or possible technologies.
Ammonia is one of the cheap sources of hydrogen but with increasing use of fertilizers cost of
ammonia is increasing. The hope in this direction is alcohol and alkaline generated from plants.
Researchers at GE say they've come up with a prototype version of an easy-to-manufacture
apparatus that they believe could lead to a commercial machine able to produce hydrogen for less
than $3 per kilogram -- a quantity roughly comparable to a gallon of gasoline -- down from today's $8
per kilogram. That could make it economically practical for future fuel-cell vehicles that run on
hydrogen. It uses fairly simple technologies: water is mixed with potassium hydroxide electrolyte and
made to flow past a stack of electrodes. Electricity causes the water molecules to split into hydrogen
and oxygen gases. Commercial-scale quantities of hydrogen can be extracted far more cheaply from
Another new process uses nanostructured catalyst in presence of sunlight to generate inexpensively
and efficiently hydrogen for fuel. Nanopteck’s innovative way to make hydrogen from water using
solar energy is unique research in its direction. The company says that its process is cheap enough to
compete with the cheapest approaches used till now. Nanoptek Maynard, who has been developing
this new technology in part with grants from NASA and the Department of Energy (DOE), completed
its first venture-capital round, raising $4.7 million that it has used to install its first pilot plant. The
technology uses Titania, a cheap and abundant material, to capture more energy from sunlight. The
absorbed energy releases electrons, which split water to make cheap hydrogen. John Guerra says
that other researchers have used Titania to split water in the past, but Nanoptek researchers found a
way to modify Titania to absorb more sunlight, which makes the process much cheaper and more
efficient. It was known since the 1970s that Titania can catalyze reactions that split water but was
never tried for improving efficiency. While Titania is a good material for the purpose because it is
cheap and doesn't degrade in water, it only absorbs ultraviolet light, which represents a small fraction
of the energy in sunlight.
Who are the current players in this area?
Government and research organizations were the key players in upcoming technology but now there
is surge of new companies which are taking lead in this technology.
Almost all the leading automobile companies of the world have now become current players in this
area. Honda, Toyota, Rolls-Royce, Nissan and Mercedes are just few to name.
Toshiba, Oorja Protonics’, Altergy Systems, Ingsman, Ballard Power Systems, Bloom Energy,
ClearEdge Power, Dantherm Power, FuelCell Energy, Hydrogenics, IdaTech, Nuvera Fuel Cells, P21
GmbH, Plug Power, ReliOn, UTC Power and many more large player in current market.
Figure - A Mercedes-Benz O530 Citaro powered
by hydrogen fuel cells, in Brno, Czech Republic.
Fig Right: Sheraton San Diego's clean and quiet
fuel cells are located next to the hotel's tennis
Fig Left: Energy fuel cells at Gills Onions
Fig Right: Fuel cells power Pepperidge Farms’
Bloomfield, Connecticut bakery
Any applications where concept is tried?
Vehicle and backup power applications
Commercially available PEM fuel cell systems are capable to support these applications and offer
several potential advantages over current technologies, longer runtimes, including lower emissions,
lower O&M requirements, and other productivity enhancement advantages. Users are looking for
alternatives to batteries to increase runtime and productivity, across the various specialty vehicle
markets analyzed. Users want to and reduce safety risks, and for opportunities to reduce O&M costs
associated with their ICE vehicles which makes fuel cell a good substitute.
When forklifts were operated under conditions of near continuous use, fuel cell vehicles were
significantly less expensive than similar battery-powered systems from a lifecycle cost perspective.
Advantages of PEM fuel cell systems operating under such conditions include constant voltage
delivery, rapid refuelling eliminating time and cost of replacing batteries, fewer repairs due to fewer
moving parts, increased productivity by eliminating battery recharging time, and elimination of battery
storage/changing room and associated costs.
Airport ground support equipment
Recent federal and state air quality regulation and federal incentive programs are driving airlines to
use low emission alternatives to ICE, and batteries are well-positioned to gain market share in this
area. As PEM fuel cells are to compete effectively in this market, they have to be more cost effective
than battery systems. Also quick entry to market will be required along with an affordable source of
The US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) is
focused on the development of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles by 2015. Department realizes that there
will likely be a lengthy transition period so they are focused on identifying market opportunities for
Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel.
Biggest challenges that may cause these ideas to fail
Many researches claim that oil and gas giants never want technological progress in this filed.
Cheap supply of fuel is the most important thing that is to be considered for economic viability. If
upcoming technologies fail to reduce the cost of it hydrogen economy will remain a concept.
Lack of practical hydrogen distribution system: Even if we get hydrogen at cheap rates as we are
optimistic but distribution system is very risky. High cost of hydrogen storage is hurdle in progress.
Fuel cell are not able to take heavy loads shocks, they are still not very successful in use in heavy
load vehicles like cranes
We see that fuel cell have changed a lot in the recent past. These changes are like a new turning
point in developments of fuel cell. Now it is not just area where governmental organizations are doing
research. Now commercial applications have also come up and this will increase the flow of money
for more research. As commercial organization sees benefits of fuel cell it will trigger more research in
area of cheap availability of hydrogen and once commercially cheap hydrogen is available Hydrogen
economy will not remain just a vision.
 Fuel Cell History document by George Wand
 Newspapers and Magazines mainly from The Hindu
 Research Atlas: Research Register-EP/G041792/1 at http://ukerc.rl.ac.uk
 Journal of the American Chemical Society and http://www.gizmag.com
 January 2008, Kevin Bullis and http://www.technologyreview.com
 The Business Case for Fuel Cells: Report by Sandra Curtin and Jennifer Gangi