Fuel Cell

A device that converts the chemical energy obtained from a redox reaction directly into electrical energy. A fuel cell is a battery where reactants are supplied to the cell from an external source.

The most commonly cited example is the hydrogen fuel cell, in which hydrogen and oxygen are combined, producing electric current and water.

Schematic of a fuel cell

The basic types of fuel cell are:

Historical Notes

  1. 1839 Fuel Cell invented by William Grove.
  2. 1959 First successful fuel cell produced by Francis Bacon.
  3. 1966 The first fuel cell car - GM Electrovan.


Alkali, molten carbonate and solid oxide fuel cells are "anion-mobile" cells. Anions migrate through the electrolyte toward the anode.


This is where the fuel reacts or "oxidizes", and releases electrons.

Atmospheric Pressure

Used to describe a fuel cell system where the only pressure acting on the system is from the atmoshpere; no external pressure is applied.

Balance of Plant

The auxiliary equipment required to ensure the fuel cell operates as a reliable power source. This may include fuel reformers, humidifiers and pumps.


Where oxygen, usually taken from the air, "reduction" occurs.


Phosphoric acid and PEM fuel cells are "cation-mobile" cells. The cation migrates through the electrolyte toward the cathode.


The framework within a fuel cell that supports an electrolyte.


The separating layer in a fuel cell that acts as electrolyte (an ion-exchanger) as well as a barrier film separating the gases in the anode and cathode compartments of the fuel cell.


The lowering of a fuel cell′s efficiency due to impurities in the fuel binding to the catalyst.

Polarisation Curve

A measure of cell performance that indicates the relationship between current density and voltage across a fuel cell.


Individual fuel cells connected in a series.

See also: Alkali Fuel Cell, Auxiliary Power Unit, Bacon, Francis Thomas, Battery, Direct Fuel Cell, Electrolyser, Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle, Fuel Cell Poisoning, Fuel Cell Stack, Fuel Processor, Hydrogen Storage, Liquid Organic Hydrogen Carriers, Molten Carbonate Fuel Cells, Phosphoric Acid Fuel Cell, Polarisation Curve, Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell, Range Extender, Reformate, Reformer, Regenerative Fuel Cells, Reversible Fuel Cell, Solid Oxide Fuel Cell, Water Electrolysis.

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Subjects: Automotive Chemistry Electronics Mechanical Engineering

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