Fuel Cell History
Back in the year 1839 the foundation stone for today's fuel cell technology has already been laid. It was the Welsh justice and physician Sir William Robert Grove (1811-1896) who developed the first working prototype. This prototype consisted of two platinum electrodes which were separately surrounded by a glass cylinder. One of the cylinders was filled with hydrogen the other with oxygen. Both electrodes were immersed in diluted sulphuric acid - which was the electrolyte - and created the electric connection. At the electrodes voltage was produced. This voltage was very low and therefore Grove linked several of these fuel cells to get a higher voltage.
Groves's contemporaries underestimated the importance of his discovery and the fuel cell was forgotten. Only in the 1950's, against the background of the Cold War, his idea was taken up again. Space travel and military technology required compact and powerful energy sources.
Spacecraft and submarines require electric power and it is not possible to work with internal combustion engines. Because of batteries being too heavy for spacecrafts, NASA (e.g. in the Apollo program) decided in favour of the direct chemical generation of electric power by fuel cells.
The civil use of fuel cells became interesting only during the last years.
At the beginning of the 90's scientists and engineers developed different new concepts and technologies which made it possible to increase efficiency continually and to decrease costs at the same time. Today fuel cells can be used for a lot of different applications: for vehicle engines, for residential heating systems and also for big power stations with a power rating of several megawatts as well as for smallest applications like in mobile phones or mobile computers.
The fuel cell really has the potential to revolutionise the world of energy technology!