Hydrogen Fuel Cells History - Timeline


History of hydrogen fuel cells started by Sir William Robert Grove (1811 -1896). Grove was educated at Oxford and practiced patent law while also studying chemistry. Grove developed an improved wet-cell battery in 1838 which brought him 12 fame. Using his research and knowledge that electrolysis used electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen he concluded that the opposite reaction must be capable of producing electricity. Using this hypothesis, Grove developed a device which would combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity. Grove had developed the world's first gas battery. It was this gas battery which has become known as the fuel cell.

Ludwig Mond (1839-1909) along with assistant Carl Langer conducted experiments with a hydrogen fuel cell that produced 6 amps per square foot at 0.73 volts. Mond and Langer came across problems using liquid electrolytes. As Mond said \we have only succeeded by using an electrolyte in a quasi-solid form soaked up by a porous non-conducting material, in a similar way as has been done in the so-called dry piles and batteries." Mond used an earthenware plate saturated with dilute sulfuric

It was Friedrich Wilhelm Ostwald (1853-1932), the founder of the eld of physical chemistry, who experimentally determined the relationship between the different components of the fuel cell, including the electrodes, electrolyte, oxidizing and reducing agent, anions and cations. Ostwald's work opened doors into the area of fuel cell research by supplying information to future fuel cell researchers. During the rst half of the twentieth century, Emil Baur (1873-1944) conducted extensive research into the area of high temperature fuel cell devices which used molten silver as the electrolyte. His work was performed along with students at Braunschweig and Zurich.

Francis Thomas Bacon (1904-1992) performed research and significant developments with high pressure fuel cells. Bacon was successful in developing a fuel cell that used nickel gauze electrodes and operated at pressures up to 3000 psi. Bacon's work lead into World War II as he tried to develop a fuel cell to be used in the Royal Navy submarines. In 1958, his work lead to the development of an alkali cell using a stack of 10" diameter electrodes for Britain's National Research Development Corporation. Bacon's developments were successful enough gain the interest of Pratt & Whitney, and his work was licensed and used in the Apollo spacecraft fuel cells. Similar technology is still being used in spacecraft.

Hydrogen fuel cells timeline:
  • 1801, Humphry Davy demonstrates the principle of what became fuel cells
  • 1839, William Grove invents the gas battery, the first fuel cell
  • 1889, Charles Langer and Ludwig Mond develop Grove's invention and name the fuel cell.
  • 1950s, General Electric invents the proton exchange membrane fuel cell
  • 1959, Francis Bacon demonstrates a 5 kW alkaline fuel cell.
  • 1960s, NASA first uses fuel cells in space missions.
  • 1970s, The oil crisis prompts the development of alternative energy technologies including PAFC
  • 1980s, US Navy uses fuel cells in submarines
  • 1990s, Large stationary fuel cells are developed for commercial and industrial locations.
  • 2007, Fuel cells begin to be sold commercially as APU and for stationary backup power
  • 2008, Honda begins leasing the FCX Clarity fuel cell electric vehicle
  • 2009, Residential fuel cell micro-CHP units become commercially available in Japan. Also thousands of portable fuel cell battery chargers are sold
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