Fuel cells and fuel cell components produce electricity and heat electrochemically by combining oxygen from the air with a fuel, preferably hydrogen, from methanol, natural gas, or petroleum. Reformers are often used in conjunction with hydrogen fuel cells. There many are types of fuel cells and fuel cell components. Examples include a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell, direct methanol fuel cell (DFMC), phosphoric acid fuel cell (PAFC), molten carbonate fuel cell (MCFC), and solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC).

Selecting fuel cells and fuel cell components requires an understanding of hydrogen fuel cell technologies. A proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell or PEM fuel cell uses hydrogen as the anode gas and pure or atmospheric oxygen as the cathode gas. PEM fuel cells use a solid polymer membrane as the electrolyte, which is much easier to handle and use than a liquid counterpart. A direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) uses methanol in a solution of water as the anode gas and atmospheric oxygen as the anode gas. The electrolyte is made of a solid polymer membrane. A phosphoric acid fuel cell (PAFC) uses a phosphorous electrolyte to provide high reliability, quiet operation, and improved efficiency. Molten carbonate fuel cells (MCFC) use hydrogen or methane as the anode gas and atmospheric oxygen as the cathode. Alkali-carbonates such as carbonate-salt-impregnated ceramic matrix are used as an electrolyte. Solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC) are fuel cells and fuel cell components that use hydrogen or methane as anode gas and atmospheric oxygen as cathode gas and ceramic oxide electrolyte.

Selecting fuel cells and fuel cell components requires an analysis of performance specifications and end-user applications. Performance specifications include percent efficiency, working temperature, components and subsystems, and materials of construction. The catalyst, a fuel cell component that activates the chemical reaction between electrodes, is also an important consideration. A PEM fuel cell typically uses a thin platinum catalyst. In terms of applications, some fuel cells and fuel cell components are designed for use with a fuel cell car or fuel cell vehicle. According to some industry experts, fuel cell technology will find its first widespread use in portable electronic devices. Fuel cells and fuel cell components that are designed to meet U.S. military specifications (MIL-SPEC) will also become available.

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