Fuel cells, a promising and virtually limitless energy source that can be used for various applications including transportation, portable appliances and stationary installations, were first discovered in 1839 by Sir William Grove. However, it is only in the past two decades that the technology has become a viable and practical solution. With water as its only by-product, fuel cell technology is in line to become one of the key next-generation solutions for Future Energy.

This forward-looking and eco-friendly technology, which involves an electrochemical process where hydrogen and oxygen are converted into water to produce electricity, was showcased at Expo 2005 Aichi in Japan via a fleet of specially designed buses.

The Expo presented the results of several years of active research and development into transportation fuel cell technology, as seen in the FCHV-BUS2 buses. These buses carried Expo visitors over a distance of 4.4km, connecting the Nagakute and Seto areas of the Expo site in 10 minutes. Powered by a combination of high-pressure hydrogen fuel stored in seven tanks installed on the roof, and a rechargeable nickel-hydrogen battery, each hybrid bus could transport 65 people.

The goal in showcasing this technology using buses, was to provide a large number of people with the opportunity to experience the real potential of cost-effective and reliable Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFCs), which have the highest electricity efficiency of all fuel cells. The buses were not the only application of fuel cell technology at Expo 2005 – two pavilions received their energy supply from a demonstration power plant composed of fuel cells, photovoltaic cells and energy storage batteries. The plant produced 3,716 MWh of electricity.

In the twelve years since Expo 2005 Aichi, fuel cell systems have continued to make progress in their efficiency and practical applications. At World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, 196 fuel cell vehicles were used to transport visitors around the vast Expo site. More recently, the technology is being applied to railways, with German regional rail operators soon to replace diesel trains with zero emissions hydrogen fuel cells.

The evolution of fuel cell technology does, however, require further development, notably regarding hydrogen production, storage, and distribution. Researchers are currently working on creating hydrogen with bacteria, and at Binghamton University in New York, scientists have made some ground-breaking discoveries in microbial fuel cells (MFCs) that are capable of generating power interrupted over several days.

With many of the international participants in Expo 2017 Astana highlighting the latest fuel cell technologies, there is no doubt that hydrogen will play a key role in Future Energy...

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