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The problem with fuel cells

The problem with fuel cells

Posting in Energy

Fuel cells promise clean, reliable energy on location. But a key, pricey component wears out in just a few years. Can Bloom Energy and others find a solution?

Fuel cells are an amazing energy advancement that could help the smart grid take off by allowing for companies to generate clean energy on-site.

But it's still early days for the technology as a successful product, and there's a weak link that's hindering broader adoption: lifespan.

Earth2Tech editor Katie Fehrenbacher notes this morning that the stacks within the cell that create the reaction that produces electricity are, for lack of a better word, short-lived.

At roughly two to five years of life, the stacks -- specifically, the catalyst that facilitates the reaction, such as platinum -- degrade over time.

The problem: the "hot box" chamber that contains the stacks can be 50 percent of the price of the entire device, if not more.

Fuel cell makers are spending a lot on R&D trying to find these stack lifetime breakthroughs, but are also looking to reduce costs via reaching economies of scale of manufacturing. The idea is even if the stacks don’t last longer in the future, they can ultimately be cheaper to produce.

It's not unlike a lithium ion battery -- except way more expensive. Can fuel cell startups convince investors that their products are robust enough to bridge the "valley of death"?

The pain point for Bloom Energy & fuel cell makers [Earth2Tech]

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure