Vol 3 No 2 Suppl. 1 (2019)
Special Issue Article

Fuel Cells: A Challenging History

Harold Duane Wallace
Smithsonian Institution, US

Published 2019-11-22


  • Fuel cells, gas batteries, electrochemical technology

How to Cite

Wallace, H. D. (2019). Fuel Cells: A Challenging History. Substantia, 3(2), 83 - 97. https://doi.org/10.13128/Substantia-277


Professional and popular journals present fuel cells as the salvation of transportation and electric power infrastructures; the ultimate rechargeable battery. Engineers and investors alike find them attractive as a modern and elegant alternative to other electrical generators. On three occasions since W. R. Grove’s initial research around 1840, widespread adoption of fuel cells seemed imminent. Each time, technical challenges in materials and systems integration, along with advances in other electrical technologies frustrated advocates’ hopes. Despite successful development of several different types, commercialization remains limited to niche applications. After 180 years fuel cells remain outside the mainstream of power generation technology. This paper presents an overview of that history. The author discusses basic challenges that have faced developers, and suggests how present research may benefit from past experience.