What Is a Fuel Cell?
Fuel cells are self-contained, power-generation devices that are able to
produce reliable electricity for residential, commercial, industrial and
transportation applications. A fuel cell can convert hydrogen directly into
electricity for both transport and stationary-power applications.
What Are the Benefits?
In fuel cells, the use of hydrogen produces no unburned hydrocarbons,
nitrogen oxides or carbon monoxide - greenhouse gases - such as those produced
by burning fossil fuels. Fuel cells convert energy very efficiently, which helps
conserve energy resources, and the only byproduct of this chemical process is
pure water - a clear benefit for the environment.
However, hydrogen - a tasteless, odorless, colorless gas - is not found
freely in nature. It must be extracted from other substances.
Before fuel cells can achieve widespread use in vehicle or stationary-power
markets, hydrogen as a fuel will have to be readily available. This means, for
instance, that fueling hydrogen-powered vehicles will have to be as
straightforward and convenient as fueling today's gasoline-powered vehicles.
None of this will happen overnight. We see hydrogen becoming part of the
world's energy supply step by step as technical challenges are overcome and
market forces create new opportunities. It may take decades to transition to
hydrogen-based energy and transport systems that are economically sound on a
What Chevron Is Doing
At our worldwide headquarters in San Ramon, California, we installed the
first commercially operating stationary fuel cell power plant in the San
Francisco Bay Area. The plant turns hydrogen and oxygen into electricity and
provides 200 kilowatts of electricity used to power a portion of our corporate
The fuel cell power plant separates hydrogen (supplied by natural gas, a
hydrocarbon fuel) into its basic elements and combines it with oxygen from the
air, creating electricity, clean water and usable heat.
The on-site fuel cell has a number of benefits, including:
- Providing a clean, quiet and reliable independent power source for
critical electric loads.
- Demonstrating an efficient technology that involves no combustion,
recovers heat and clean water for multiple uses, and reduces demand on the
local electricity grid.
- Allowing us to monitor and analyze fuel cell performance relative to
conventional power technologies in a commercial application.
The fuel cell application is designed to support critical data systems that
require full-load operation 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In the event of a
disruption on local utility lines, which also deliver power to the data center,
special switching equipment ensures the fuel cell will continue to provide
electricity to these systems without interruption.
Updated: September 2007