Fuel Cell Engineers


Exploring this Job

Read books about fuel cell technology, such as Build Your Own Fuel Cells, by Phillip Hurley, which offers instructions on creating low-tech fuel cells with a band saw and drill press, or just a few hand tools. Partner up on this project so that you can brainstorm and build it together. Another way to learn more directly about the job is by conducting an information interview with a fuel cell engineer. Your school's career services offices can help you locate an engineer who is interested in discussing his or her career. Learn fuel cell terminology by visiting Fuel Cell Today's Web site, http://www.fuelcelltoday.com/about-fuel-cells/glossary. You can also learn more about how fuel cells work by visiting PBS's NOVA Web site, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/fuel-cell-work.

Check out the U.S. Department of Energy's Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Career Map (https://www.energy.gov/eere/fuelcells/hydrogen-and-fuel-cells-career-map) to learn more about careers in the field. 

The Job

Motor vehicles were originally powered by gasoline and internal combustion engines, which are reliable and effective systems but cause tremendous pollution. Vehicles that run on cleaner power are being developed and improved on, such as the electric car and the gas/electric hybrid. The fuel cell, which generates electricity, is another clean-power option. As described by the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association, "fuel cells can run on a variety of fuels, including natural gas and hydrogen. Hydrogen is a clean, carbon-free fuel readily available from a variety of sources. When powered by hydrogen, fuel cells emit only water vapor as a byproduct. Fuel cells can run at any time of day and produce nearly zero noise. They are reliable, safe, and never need recharging."

Fuel cells generate power through a chemical reaction instead of combustion, which is what powers automotive engines. The different types of fuel cells include the Polymer Electrolyte Membrane Fuel Cell (PEMFC) used in vehicles and the direct Methanol Fuel Cell (DMFC) used in portable electronics. Find information about fuel cells at the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association's Web site, http://www.fchea.org.

Fuel cells are also used in a numerous other applications, from stationary electricity generation to portable electronics. They are used in back-up power systems, specialty vehicles (such as airport ground vehicles and fork lifts), portable power units, and combined heat and power production. Walmart, eBay, Sheraton, Adobe Systems, BMW, Albertsons, Coca-Cola, Google, Hilton, FedEx, Staples, Verizon, and Sprint are just some of the corporations that use fuel cells for power.

Fuel cell engineers design fuel cell systems, subsystems, stacks, assemblies, and components. They usually have backgrounds in chemical, electrical, industrial, materials, or mechanical engineering. Their work involves analyzing fuel cell or related test data using statistical software; calculating the efficiency and power output of a fuel cell system or process; conducting post-service or failure analyses; developing fuel cell materials and fuel cell test equipment; and identifying and defining the vehicle and system integration challenges for fuel cell vehicles. They work closely with fuel cell technicians, who conduct fuel cell tests and report findings to engineers.

Fuel cell engineers may work on projects such as designing hydrogen fueling stations for automotive vehicles or creating a fuel cell that can enable a city bus to run for a full day without the need to refuel. They develop and test fuel cells that perform best in certain environments, such as in humid conditions or in an arid, desert environment. They write technical reports and proposals for engineering projects. They also attend meetings and conferences to stay current on fuel cell technology and products.

The job requires strong knowledge of various software programs, such asFactSage, AutoCAD, National Instruments LabVIEW, as well as spreadsheet and Word processing software such as Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Word.