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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 TypeCommon ElectrolyteOperating TemperatureTypical Stack SizeElectrical Efficiency (LHV)ApplicationsAdvantagesChallenges
Polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM)Perfluorosulfonic acid<120°C<1 kW–100 kW60% direct H2; a
40% reformed fuel b

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°C1–100 kW60% 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 membrane150°–200°C

5–400 kW, 100 kW module (liquid PAFC)

<10 kW (polymer membrane)

40% dDistributed 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 matrix600°–700°C300 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 zirconia500°–1,000°C1 kW–2 MW60% 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