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Fuel Cell Technicians


Welsh lawyer and physicist Sir William Robert Grove created the first fuel cell in 1839, but his "Grosive gas voltaic battery" was a primitive fuel cell that did not create enough electricity to be useful. The term fuel cell was coined in 1889 by chemists Charles Langer and Ludwig Mond, based on their extensive fuel cell research. Interest in fuel cells flagged, however, due to the emergence of the internal combustion engine. In 1939, Cambridge University researcher Dr. Francis Thomas Bacon upgraded Langer and Mond's machinery, and called his device the "Bacon Cell." Considered to be the first alkaline fuel cell, Bacon worked for nearly three decades to improve this fuel cell. In 1959, he created a fuel cell that could power a welding machine. That same year Harry Karl Ihrig of Allis-Chalmers, a U.S. farm equipment manufacturing company, created the first fuel cell–powered vehicle (a tractor).

Space exploration in the 1950s and 1960s helped to further develop the fuel cell. NASA partnered with General Electric to develop a fuel cell that could power manned flights. They created the Grubb-Niedrach fuel cell, which was used in the Gemini space missions and was the first commercial use of a fuel cell. NASA continues today to use fuel cells for its space missions. 

The energy crisis in the 1970s caused the U.S. government to conduct research on fuel cell systems usage, and in the 1980s, utilities and automobile manufacturers began developing fuel cell technology. Ballard, a Canadian company, developed the first marketable fuel cell-powered vehicle. Toyota Motor Corp. launched the fuel cell–powered Mirai in 2015, and Honda introduced the next generation Honda Clarity Fuel Cell vehicle in 2017. Other automakers are currently developing fuel cell–powered vehicles that they plan to market. The U.S. Department of Energy reports that the use of fuel cells in vehicles "replicates today’s driving experience: range of 300+ miles per hydrogen fueling, refuel at a pump in 3-5 minutes."

Fuel cells are used today for many purposes, from powering forklifts or vacuum cleaners to  vending machines, highway road signs, laptop computers, cell phone, radio, and 911 towers. Many businesses rely on fuel cells to perform vital tasks. Fuel cell technicians and engineers continue to advance technology that improves the performance and efficiency of fuel cells. 

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