Fuel Cell : The Next Frontiers

boeing fuel cell pem demonstratorBoeing’s report on planned tests of a manned flight this year, of an aircraft powered only by a fuel cell and batteries, has brought to the fore the quiet development of fuel cell technologies, which aim to introduce an element of environmental friendliness to the aviation industry.

Fuel cells use a chemical reaction to produce electricity, without any emissions. Boeing is using Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cells to generate the electricity. In fuel cells, hydrogen rich fuel is combined with the oxygen in the air, to produce electricity. If pure hydrogen is used as fuel, the only byproduct of the reaction is water.

Proton Exchange Membrane (also known as Polymer Electrolyte Membrane) fuel cells use a solid polymer as an electrolyte and have the additional advantages of compact size and high power density.

The Boeing demonstrator will carry PEM fuel cells made by Intelligent Energy Ltd., an London based company with offices in Long Beach, California. Intelligent energy develops fuel cell and hydrogen generation technologies.

In addition to the aerospace industry, fuel cells are finding a variety of applications wherever there is need for compactness, and low emissions.

Ultracell, which develops high power density micro fuel cells for use portable devices such as laptops and cell phones, received $10.3M in funding from BASF Venture Capital in January of 2007. Superprotonic, a Pasadena CA company set up to market and commercialize solid acid fuel cell (SAFC) technology developed at the California Institute of Technology, received funding in 2005 from several investors including Batelle Ventures (a NJ based fund) and the venture arm of the oil and gas company Norsk Hydro Technology.

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