Progress in Developing Commercial Fuel Cells
- D.K. Fleming (Institute Of Gas Technology)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- June 1967
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 749 - 755
- 1967. Society of Petroleum Engineers
- 4.6 Natural Gas, 4.1.2 Separation and Treating, 4.3.4 Scale, 4.2.3 Materials and Corrosion, 4.1.5 Processing Equipment
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The fuel cell concept is being developed for the economic production of electricity. The 6.5:1 cost differential in favor of residentially purchased fossil fuels over electricity provides the impetus for this work. This article surveys the current status of research and development on the many types of fuel cells and includes an extensive reference list.
A major benefit of the current space exploration program has been the "fall-out" of technical advancements in many fields, which includes fuel cell research and development. Because space officials have determined that fuel cells in the power range of 100 w to 25 kw are the most economic power sources for space missions lasting from 1 day to several weeks, they have spent over $100 million for research in fuel cell technology. One result of this research is that a commercially economic fuel cell may soon be available.
What Is a Fuel Cell?
The Gemini flights have made most people aware that fuel cells exist, but they know little else about them. The very name fuel cell is a poor choice since it is not very descriptive of the use or operation of the device. In fact, the same term is used to describe a better gasoline tank on Indianapolis race cars, and here the name fits. Considering the operation of the device, a better name for it would be a "continuous battery". The National Electrical Manufacturers Assn. defines a fuel cell as an "electrochemical cell which can continuously change the chemical energy of a fuel and an oxidant to electrical energy by an isothermal process involving an essentially invariant electrode-electrolyte system." This NEMA definition describes a continuous battery that does not run down or require recharging and that will continue to operate as long as fuel and oxidant are fed to it. Like all batteries, fuel cells convert the chemical energy of the reaction directly to electrical energy without the intervening steps of heat and mechanical energies. Because the conversion of heat is not required, the fuel cell is not limited by the Carnot efficiency. The theoretically high efficiency of a fuel cell is possible because the reaction is nearly reversible. The fuel cell, which reacts hydrogen and oxygen w make water and electricity, is exactly the reverse of the electrolysis of water with electricity to make hydrogen and oxygen. The fuel cell has been described as a continuous battery. Fig. I compares the operation of a fuel cell to a lead-acid storage battery. Both devices consist of an anode (negative terminal) and a cathode (positive terminal). Both batteries use an ion-conducting electrolyte. The method of generating electricity is the same in both-the galvanic oxidation-reduction reaction. in the lead-acid battery, metallic lead is converted to lead sulfate at the anode, and electrons go out the negative terminal.
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