What kind of fuels can be used in our fuel cells? Most fuel cells run on gaseous hydrogen which is the most abundant element in the universe. One of the great things about hydrogen is that it can be obtained from a large number of sources. Some examples are water, ethanol, methanol, natural gas, gasoline or ammonia. Generally a “fuel reformer” or “fuel cracker” is needed to obtain the hydrogen gas from these fuel sources.  First Element fuel cells run on hydrogen and hydrogen reformed from methanol.
How does a reformer/cracker work? Hydrogen is the most plentiful and simplest element in the universe but on earth it is never found alone in a usable quantity. It is almost always combined with other elements, the most recognizable is oxygen to form water (H2O). There are a number of different ways that reformers work , usually the process involves passing the fuel over a chemical catalyst at elevated high temperatures and pressures and then using filters and membranes to separate hydrogen from other gases. First Element Energy uses a reformer process for our ammonia and methanol based products.

  1.  A methanol reformer converts a mixture of methanol and pure water into hydrogen gas which is used as fuel by the fuel cell. The fuel is a mixture of pure methanol and pure de-ionized water mixed at a ratio of 2 to 1 by volume. For example 2 liters of methanol are mixed with 1 liter of water.
  2. The mixed fuel is stable over time. Fuel tanks are similar to automotive or diesel generator fuel tanks and vented to the atmosphere.
  3. The fuel enters a heated core where it is chemically split into its components, hydrogen and small amounts of CO and CO2.
  4. Filters separate the hydrogen and other gases. The hydrogen is routed to the fuel cell as fuel and the other gases are vented
  5. The reformer requires heat for the chemical process and uses some of the fuel produced to generate this heat. The reformer will also consume 100-200 watts of electrical power during normal operation.
  6. The reformer can be held in a standby state for rapid starting using external electric power from the utility grid or other source.


What about safety?

All fuels it require safety precautions during handling and transportation, it is highly recommended the installer and user become familiar with the specifics of each fuel being used. Certain properties of hydrogen actually can make it safer than gasoline or propane as it is lighter than air and disperses very rapidly. In addition hydrogen cannot contaminate groundwater as other fuels can.

Each Country, state and municipality have specific code requirements which need to be reviewed and adhered to. Some, but not all, of the United States national safety requirements can be found at:

National Fire Protection Association

• NFPA 2 (Hydrogen Technologies Code)

• NFPA 30

• NFPA 55 (Chapter 10)

• NFPA 70 (National Electrical Code)

• NFPA 853 (Installation of Stationary Fuel Cells)

ANSI  Z21.83 (Fuel Cell Power Plants)