By Matin Durrani
Running on hydrogen and oxygen and producing just electricity without any nasty emissions, fuel cells have over the years been used to power everything from bikes and buses to cars and even planes.
But last week saw the debut of a fuel cell at Imperial College London that was used to power a rock band. The fuel cell was unveiled at a summer barbeque organized by the Hydrogen and Fuel Cells (H2FC) Supergen Hub – a scheme funded by the UK’s research councils to boost interest in fuel cells among UK universities and businesses.
Actually, petty college noise regulations stopped the band from performing live, but staff and students at the barbeque were treated to a solo performance by the band’s guitarist and frontman Michael Parkes, who is a PhD chemistry student at Imperial. Parkes apparently performed a number of tracks, including Nirvana’s early 1990s hit “Smells like Teen Spirit”.
The fuel cell in question is a “PEMFC-supercapacitor hybrid power generator”, which takes hydrogen from a compressed cylinder and oxygen from atmospheric air as its fuel. The power produced by the fuel cell is in the form of direct current (DC), which is turned into 230 V AC using a power inverter. Imperial claims the 10 kW fuel cell “produces enough electricity to power three typical UK homes”.
The fuel cell, which took five years to create, was built as part of an outreach project and Imperial staff hope it could be used, for example, at science festivals.
Parkes’ fellow band members include singer Freddie Page, who is doing a PhD in condensed-matter physics, Sam Cooper (PhD in materials) on drums and Edwin de Krej (an engineer) on bass. The band – currently called Project Hydrogen Fuel Cell Rock Band – is musing on a catchier name, so if you have any suggestions, please do add them below.