U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
Fuel Cell Technologies Office
Early Market Applications for Fuel Cell Technologies
Fuel Cell Technologies Office market transformation efforts focus on several key early market applications:
For specialty vehicles such as forklifts, fuel cells can be a cost-competitive alternative to traditional lead-acid batteries because:
This fuel-cell-powered forklift operates at an airport.
Batteries have a limited range, take substantial time to recharge and cool before reuse, and are prone to voltage drops as power discharges.
Unlike batteries, fuel cells can be rapidly refueled, eliminating the time and cost associated with swapping batteries.
The voltage delivered by the fuel cell is constant as long as hydrogen fuel is supplied. Using fuel-cell-powered forklifts can boost productivity by eliminating trips to the battery changing station. And with no need for battery chargers, storage, or changing areas, more warehouse space is available for other uses.
For these reasons, fuel cells can be cost-competitive with batteries on a lifecycle basis, particularly for continuously used forklifts that operate two or three shifts a day and require multiple battery change-outs.
Learn More about Using Fuel Cells in Specialty Vehicles
These publications provide more information about fuel-cell-powered forklifts.
Emergency Backup Power
This fuel cell system supplies backup power for a remote radio tower in Berry Hill, New York.
Fuel cells are a potentially viable option for backup power, particularly in the telecommunications sector. Traditional backup power technologies use batteries and generators that operate on diesel, propane, or gasoline. Most backup-power communication and control systems use a combination of generators and batteries to provide redundancy and avoid service disruptions. Although these systems are reliable and well-established, growing concerns about batteries and generators are motivating many customers to seek alternatives that provide high reliability and durability at reasonable cost.
Compared with batteries, fuel cells offer longer continuous runtime and greater durability in harsh outdoor environments. And with fewer moving parts, they require less maintenance than generators or batteries. They can also be monitored remotely, reducing maintenance time. Compared with generators, fuel cells are quieter and have no emissions.
On a lifecycle basis, fuel cells can offer significant cost savings over both battery-generator systems and battery-only systems when shorter runtime capabilities of up to 72 hours are sufficient (fuel cell system costs for longer runtimes can be higher than incumbent technologies due to the cost of hydrogen storage tank rentals).
Learn More about Using Fuel Cells for Emergency Backup Power
These publications provide more information about using fuel cells for backup power.
Prime Power for Critical Loads
The Verizon Telecommunications Center in Garden City, New York, is powered by fuel cells.
Fuel cells can replace grid electricity for dedicated, on-site, premium-power generation at large energy consuming or "critical load" facilities. Critical load facilities include data centers with electronic equipment, servers, and other computing activities; high-volume financial processing centers; defense or security communications facilities; air traffic control centers; hospital intensive-care units; and prisons and remote law enforcement campuses—places where grid failure, even for a short time, can result in significant financial loss or security vulnerability.
In these applications, fuel cells can provide high-quality, reliable, grid-independent, on-site power, with reduced emissions over conventional power technologies. In addition, waste heat from fuel cells can be captured to provide heating and cooling of ancillary equipment and facilities, increasing energy efficiency to as high as 85%. These fuel cell systems can also enhance grid reliability—the on-site power generation augments grid electricity, making it available for other demands in grid-deficit areas of the country.
Fuel cells can use bio-derived methane or anaerobic digestion gas found in sewage, food and beverage processing, crop and animal agriculture, and municipal landfill waste streams to generate electricity and meet the heating and cooling needs of industry sites, government facilities, or campus operations. Combining a fuel cell system with digester, chilling, and heating technologies can greatly increase efficiencies while eliminating sizable amounts of methane that would otherwise be released to the atmosphere.
Learn More about Using Fuel Cells for Prime Power
These publications provide more information about using fuel cells for prime power.
Learn More about Early Market Applications
These publications provide more information about using proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells in early market applications.