Stationary Fuel Cells: Reliable Back Up Power

Conrad Ukropina
November 14, 2014

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2014


Fig. 1: The electrical process. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Safe, reliable energy is incredibly important when examining the aftershock of a natural disaster. The stationary fuel cell allows grid stability during times of a forced power outage. A large part of ensuring natural disasters are dealt with quickly and effectively stems from communication systems that must not fail during electrical system failure. According to the fuel cell industry review, in 2012 alone there were 45,000 fuel cell systems shipped all over the world. [1]

Stationary Fuel Cell Operations

Can the stationary fuel cell serve as a reliable back up generator in remote areas? Stationary fuel cells convert various chemical energies into electrical energy. In the case of telecommunications, Uninterruptable Power Systems (UPS) are used to provide energy when there is a loss of power in the electric grid. The stationary fuel cell is automatically triggered, heating the liquid fuel to the vapor point. Then, the gas is purified into hydrogen, delivered into the fuel cell module, creating electricity. This process is cleaner than a classic diesel engine back up generator, as the fuel cell chemical reaction has zero carbon emissions.


Fig. 1: Miniature fuel cell. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The principle drive for the adoption of fuel cells as the main source of backup energy for telecommunications continues to be focused on the need for a longer source of reliable power. Are fuel cells the answer as the go-to back up generator across the globe in terms of financial cost and benefit? Currently, micro-combined heat and power or mCPH are the most viable use for the distributed energy resource in the fuel cell market. [2] Micro combined heat and power fuel cells can be used in the home or in a power grid, producing electricity that could potentially be sold back to the owner of the power grid. According to the Delta-ee consultants, global sales of the fuel cell micro-combined heat and power passed conventional systems in sales in 2012. These fuel cells have a lifespan of 60,000 hours, estimated to last between ten and fifteen years, a relatively short time for the steep $22,600 price tag. [2]


Currently, with the high price tag of platinum and pure hydrogen, fuel cells do not seem to be a viable alternative energy source in the near future. Unfortunately, with so few companies headlining the research for more efficient fuel cells, there is a looming possibility the industry will fail to produce anything competitive on the market outside of the stationary fuel cell industry focused on back up power. There simply is not enough backing to venture into other fields where the fuel cell could be utilized, especially the most prevalent question in the car industry. While stationary fuel cells will survive for the time being, there is no promise for venture into other, more prevalent fields.

© Conrad Ukropina. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] D. Carter and J. Wing, "The Fuel Cell Industry Review 2013," Fuel Cell Today, September 2013.

[2] D. Carter, "Latest Developments in the Ene-Farm Scheme," Fuel Cell Today, 27 Feb 13.