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Hydrogen fuel cells are emerging as a high-potential technology that offers significant energy efficiency and decarbonisation benefits, and Airbus is investing to mature fuel cell propulsion systems for the aviation market.
In 1838, the first “gas voltaic battery” consists of two separate sealed compartments, each of which was fed by either hydrogen or oxygen gas was developed. Unfortunately, it did not produce enough electricity to be of much use., so it remained a scientific curiosity until the 20th century.
Then in 1932, engineer Francis Thomas Bacon matured the original idea Sir William Grove, to develop the world’s very first hydrogen-oxygen fuel cell.
Bacon’s fuel cell was such a success that it has been used by the space industry to power satellites and rockets for space exploration programmes, including Apollo 11, since the 1960s. As the story goes, then-US President Richard Nixon famously said: “Without you Tom, we wouldn’t have gotten to the moon.”
Today, hydrogen fuel cell technology is being used for a variety of applications in hospitals, data centres, cars, buses, trains and forklifts.
Tomorrow, it could potentially power everything from low-carbon cities and regions to portable computing devices to future zero-emission aircraft.
Hydrogen fuel cells: how do they work?
Similar to batteries, a fuel cell is a device that converts energy stored in molecules into electricity through an electrochemical reaction. Composed of two electrodes (an anode and a cathode) separated by an electrolyte membrane, a typical hydrogen fuel cell works in the following way:
Because fuel cells generate electricity through an electrochemical reaction, they are a clean source of power. In fact, fuel cells that use pure hydrogen are carbon-free. Some other key advantages of fuel cells include the following: