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 large scale.

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 offices.

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

Applying Technology

Chevron is striving to find new and better ways to meet the world's energy needs.

What We're Doing