Raleigh, NC, Dec. 19, 2005 — As Progress Energy embarks on an aggressive building campaign to meet growing electricity needs in the Carolinas and Florida, the company is also focused on future energy sources. Progress Energy announced a commitment of $1 million to Microcell Corp., a Raleigh-based company working to bring commercially available fuel cell applications to industrial, commercial and consumer markets.
Fuel cells are electrochemical devices that convert chemical energy directly into electrical energy. Unlike batteries, which convert chemical energy stored within the battery, fuel cells theoretically continue to deliver electrical energy as long as fuel is supplied.
The heart of a fuel cell is an electrolyte (a substance that conducts ions) sandwiched between two layers of catalyst (a chemical substance that increases the rate of a reaction without being consumed). The Microcell fuel cell is a proton-exchange membrane (PEM) converted to the form of a microfiber. It differs from other fuel-cell designs (in that all the fuel cell components are extruded into a single microfiber) and shows promise for its potential to be mass-produced more efficiently than other designs.
One potential application for fuel cells is in operating distributed generation, or power plants located on or near the customer’s property. The technology also has potential applications in the automotive industry, including the ongoing development of hybrid gasoline/hydrogen vehicles.
While any widespread consumer application of fuel cell technology is likely years away, increased research and development – as well as active pilots and demonstrations – help to accelerate the process.