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Comparison of Fuel Cell Technologies

Each fuel cell technology has advantages and challenges. See how fuel cell technologies compare with one another. This comparison chart is also available as a fact sheet.

Fuel Cell Type Common Electrolyte Operating Temperature Typical Stack Size Electrical Efficiency (LHV) Applications Advantages Challenges
Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) Perfluorosulfonic acid <120°C <1 kW–100 kW 60% direct H2;a
40% reformed fuelb
  • Backup power
  • Portable power
  • Distributed generation
  • Transportation
  • Specialty vehicles
  • Solid electrolyte reduces corrosion and electrolyte management problems
  • Low temperature
  • Quick start-up and load following
  • Expensive catalysts
  • Sensitive to fuel impurities
Alkaline (AFC) Aqueous potassium hydroxide soaked in a porous matrix, or alkaline polymer membrane <100°C 1–100 kW 60%c
  • Military
  • Space
  • Backup power
  • Transportation
  • Wider range of stable materials allows lower cost components
  • Low temperature
  • Quick start-up
  • Sensitive to CO2 in fuel and air
  • Electrolyte management (aqueous)
  • Electrolyte conductivity (polymer)
Phosphoric Acid (PAFC) Phosphoric acid soaked in a porous matrix or imbibed in a polymer membrane 150°–200°C 5–400 kW,
100 kW module (liquid PAFC);
<10 kW (polymer membrane)
40%d
  • Distributed generation
  • Suitable for CHP
  • Increased tolerance to fuel impurities
  • Expensive catalysts
  • Long start-up time
  • Sulfur sensitivity
Molten Carbonate (MCFC) Molten lithium, sodium, and/or potassium carbonates, soaked in a porous matrix 600°–700°C 300 kW–3 MW,
300 kW module
50%e
  • Electric utility
  • Distributed generation
  • High efficiency
  • Fuel flexibility
  • Suitable for CHP
  • Hybrid/gas turbine cycle
  • High temperature corrosion and breakdown of cell components
  • Long start-up time
  • Low power density
Solid Oxide (SOFC) Yttria stabilized zirconia 500°–1,000°C 1 kW–2 MW 60%f
  • Auxiliary power
  • Electric utility
  • Distributed generation
  • High efficiency
  • Fuel flexibility
  • Solid electrolyte
  • Suitable for CHP
  • Hybrid/gas turbine cycle
  • High temperature corrosion and breakdown of cell components
  • Long start-up time
  • Limited number of shutdowns

a NREL Composite Data Product 8, "Fuel Cell System Efficiency"
b Panasonic Headquarters News Release, "Launch of New 'Ene-Farm' Home Fuel Cell Product More Affordable and Easier to Install"
c G. Mulder et al., "Market-ready stationary 6 kW generator with alkaline fuel cells," ECS Transactions 12 (2008) 743-758
d Doosan PureCell Model 400 Datasheet
e FuelCell Energy DFC300 Product Specifications
f Ceramic Fuel Cells Gennex Product Specifications