Fuel-cell technology has been the focal point of interest for scientists and engineers around the world who are looking for more sustainable sources of energy for mass use. The power generating efficiency of fuel cells steers ahead of almost every other energy source. Unlike conventional power-generation methods, fuel cells directly convert chemical energy into electrical energy, which minimizes the environmental impact.
General Electric (GE) has been at the forefront of the efforts to bring hyper-efficient, clean and affordable fuel-cell technology to the masses. The company has made game-changing breakthroughs in fuel-cell design to improve power-generation efficiency and drive down the costs. Now, GE has launched an independent start-up, GE Fuel Cells, which is working to commercialize fuel cell technology.
Alongside solar and wind power, fuel-cell technology has emerged as an equally promising clean energy alternative to conventional power plants. The key attraction is that unlike solar and wind power, which slow down when the sun sets or the wind stops blowing, fuel cells continue to generate steady, nonstop energy. Fuel-cell technology has demonstrated its effectiveness with some data centers already powered by this source of energy.
The specific fuel cell that has shown great promise is the Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC). However, the SOFC technology has been expensive due to the high cost of platinum and rare-earth elements required as inputs. This is where GE Global Research has achieved a breakthrough by successfully replacing these inputs with stainless steel to make the technology cheaper.
GE’s fuel cell design tests show that it generates power at 65 percent efficiency, which is outstanding in comparison to the current methods of producing most of the world’s power. GE’s researchers are confident that it is possible to increase the efficiency to as much as 95 percent. Fuel cell technology may not be the answer to all sustainable energy needs of the world, but it definitely seems set to bring about a paradigm shift in eco-friendly global energy production.
Image Credit: Flickr via Lars Plougmann