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NATURE

Fuel cell design gains patent

"The technology needs to get out of the lab and into the factory to reduce costs," said Peter Lehman   

April 2, 1999
Web posted at: 4:45 PM EST





A more efficient fuel cell design has received a patent that ought to foster licensing opportunities and promote the widespread use of fuel cells, according to Humbolt State University's Schatz Energy Research Center.

"This allows us to claim intellectual property to sell, so it greases the skids for licensing. The technology needs to get out of the lab and into the factory to reduce costs. It will take a commercial product that makes money for the technology to have a positive effect on society. It's got to go commercial," said Peter Lehman, director of the research center.

A fuel cell is a quiet, efficient and clean generator that chemically produces electricity from hydrogen and air. With layers of cells, called a stack, it produces direct current like a battery but, unlike a battery, it never discharges. It continues to produce power as long as fuel is supplied. The only exhaust from its energy production is pure water.

The university's patented process allows the fuel cells to operate at very low inlet-air pressure. Lessening the pressure needed to feed air to the fuel cell reduces the need for power to run a compressor, Lehman said. Because that power is parasitic, the efficiency of the fuel cell is increased.

According to recent independent testing, the research center's cell outperformed two commercially developed fuel cells by a "considerable margin," according to the center.

Fuel cells have been used on spacecraft for decades, providing direct-current power and drinking water for astronauts.

In southern California, Schatz Energy Research Center fuel cells provide power to golf carts and a small car that comprise the world's largest and longest-running fleet of fuel-cell vehicles, serving the City of Palm Desert.

The research center just completed a fuel cell to power an ice-cream maker in a project for schoolchildren at the Merit Academy in Santa Cruz.

Another fuel cell system is being built to power a radio repeater station on Schoolhouse Peak in Redwood National Park in northern California; the station will provide telephone service for the Yurok Tribe in the Klamath River Valley.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved


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RELATED SITES:
Schatz Energy Research Center
Fuel Cells 2000
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