As the world transitions to renewable energy, the demand for fuel cell stacks will vastly increase. These advanced systems generate electricity from hydrogen, and are used to power anything from a mobile phone to an industrial-sized truck. Yet the increased adoption of fuel cell stacks can confuse people. What’s the difference between air-cooled fuel cell stacks and liquid-cooled fuel cell stacks? What applications can they be used for? And is one more powerful than the other? Below we summarize the key differences between these two renewable energy technologies.
Air-Cooled Fuel Cell Stacks
Fuel cell stacks cooled by air generally produce less power than their liquid-cooled counterparts. Ranging from as little as 12 W to over 10 kW, these fuel cell stacks are best for domestic and non-commercial applications. A pocket-sized phone or laptop could, for example, be charged with a 12-, 20-, or 60-watt fuel cell stack. Larger air-cooled fuel cell stacks can be used as backup generators for a home office, integrated into electric bikes, and even be used to power small vehicles such as a golf cart.
On the upper end of the scale, large campsites or even entire buildings can be powered using air-cooled fuel cell stacks. These are perfect for replacing diesel generators, producing the same amount of power while retaining the flexibility and versatility of their more polluting predecessors. When power is needed for a live music concert, for instance, a fuel cell stack can replace the dirty exhaust of a diesel generator with zero emissions at the power source.
Liquid-Cooled Fuel Cell Stacks
Liquid-cooled fuel cell stacks can produce a lot of power. While the smallest can produce around 5 kW of electricity, the larger liquid-cooled equipment is capable of generating upwards of 120 kW of green electricity. That’s enough to power a class 8 semitruck or a long-distance train. As the world transitions to renewable energy, it is expected liquid-cooled fuel cell stacks will be used in long-distance shipping, aviation and passenger car transport. Smaller liquid-cooled fuel cell stacks are perfect for other industrial applications, such as forklifts for use in warehouses.
All of this can be accomplished due to liquid cooling. By using liquid to cool the internal components of fuel cells, the fuel cell stack can maintain a more consistent internal temperature, enabling it to operate continuously throughout the day.
While air-cooled fuel cell stacks are optimal for domestic and smaller-scale applications, liquid-cooled fuel cell stacks are perfect for decarbonizing industry and transport.