How do fuel cells work?

PEM fuel cells

PowerCell works with low temperature polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells which produce electricity and heat from hydrogen fuel and air and water as the only emission. PEM fuel cells are characterized by their compactness and rapid start-up and response times making them suitable for a broad range of different use cases.

PEM fuel cells are electrochemical devices capable of directly capturing, in electrical form, the major portion of the chemical energy from the reaction where hydrogen and oxygen (taken from the surrounding air) form water. This is achieved by dividing the reaction in two different reaction chambers connected via a proton stream over a proton conducting membrane and an electrical circuit where most of the energy released in the reactions is used to drive different types of electrical equipment. The reaction energy which is not converted into electricity by the fuel cell is transferred to a liquid cooling media where it can be used for heating purposes potentially resulting in very high total efficiencies.

Figure text: A fuel cell creates electric energy and heat from using hydrogen as a fuel and air with only water as the only emission.

The fuel cell stack

Several unit cells are arranged in a so-called fuel cell stack to match voltage and power levels required in different applications. PowerCell’s unit cells consist of compact and lightweight metallic bipolar plates combined with durable and highly efficient membrane electrode assemblies. The liquid cooling of PowerCell’s fuel cell stacks enables compact high-power system integration. A fuel cell stack is in itself a completely passive component which needs to be integrated into a fuel cell system to generate power.

The fuel cell system

A fuel cell stack will not operate stand-alone, but needs to be integrated into a fuel cell system. In the fuel cell system different auxiliary components such as compressors, pumps, sensors, valves, electrical components and control unit provide the fuel cell stack with a necessary supply of hydrogen, air and coolant. The control unit enables safe and reliable operation of the complete fuel cell system. 

Operation of the fuel cell system in the targeted application will require additional peripheral components i.e. power electronics, inverters, batteries, fuel tanks, radiators, ventilation and cabinet.

Contacts

  • Dr. Thomas Tingelöf
    CTO
    Fuel cell technology

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