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Fuel Cells – Turn Up the Heat!

Research Track




The fuel cell concept was first introduced in 1893 by Sir William Grove. Fuel cells remained a conceptual curiosity until the 1960s when the US space program identified a requirement for extended life batteries for which fuel cells offered a promising solution. The current focus on green technologies has caused an increase interest in consumer uses of fuel cells for transportation, residential and commercial power supply, emergency power backup and portable power supply for consumer electronics.

A fuel cell is an electrochemical cell which converts some fuel, usually hydrogen, into electric current. It does this through a reaction between the fuel and an oxidant in the presence of an electrolyte. The waste product of this chemical process is water and heat. Because of this fuel cells require a continuous supply of fuel but in the presence of this continuous supply they will not run out of charge like a conventional battery.

Because fuel cells require neither flame nor combustion to convert fuel into electricity, there is much hope that they will become the power source of the future as we humans attempt to reduce our carbon footprint. Fuel cells are very reliable and not as likely to be subject to the effects of environment and weather as conventional power delivery systems. Because of this they are being adopted in industries such as the telecommunications industry where outages are particularly problematic. They are also often considered for power generation in remote areas where energy from the grid is expensive. Because heat is a waste product of the electricity generation process, micro combined heating and power systems are gaining popularity for residential and small businesses. Other interesting uses of fuel cell power include material handling, backup power systems and uninterruptable power supplies.

Despite increased uses, fuel cells continue to be the exception rather than the rule in commercial usage because they are expensive. Certainly significant progress has been made through increases in efficiency and improvement in production processes but it is still more expensive, in most domains, to get electricity from fuel cells than from more conventionally methods. According to a report from the Department of Energy in May 2010, high volume fuel cell stack cost has been reduced from $275/ KW in 2002 to $61/KW in 2009 and appear on track to reach the $30/KW by 2015.

This paper reports on on-going research into fuel cells and the costs associated with producing various fuel cell powered systems. Beginning with a description of what fuel cells are and how they work, it then covers specific applications of fuel cell technology commercially and in industry. A data driven approach is applied to take cost and price information from commercially available fuel cell systems and create cost estimating relationships for estimating costs of developing similar systems in the future. Finally, examples of these cost estimating relationships are applied in real world scenarios.


Arlene Minkiewicz
PRICE Systems
Ms Minkiewicz is the Chief Scientist at PRICE Systems, LLC. In this role, she leads the cost research activity for the entire suite of cost estimating products that PRICE provides. Ms. Minkiewicz has more than 26 years of experience with PRICE building cost models. Her recent accomplishments include the development of cost estimating models for complex systems and systems of systems as well as research focused on the costs and benefits associated with migration to Service Oriented Architectures (SOA)
Ms Minkiewicz has an MS in Computer Science from Drexel University and a BS in Electrical Engineering from Lehigh University. She has published many articles on software measurement and estimation. She frequently presents at industry conferences on many topics associated with hardware, software and systems estimation. She is a member of the International Society of Parametric Analysts (ISPA) and IEEE and has served on committees setting standards and best practices for estimation, measurement, and benchmarking with SEI, PMI and CAM-I.