This website uses cookies primarily for visitor analytics. Certain pages will ask you to fill in contact details to receive additional information. On these pages you have the option of having the site log your details for future visits. Indicating you want the site to remember your details will place a cookie on your device. To view our full cookie policy, please click here. You can also view it at any time by going to our Contact Us page.


Take a fresh look at fuel cells

Tom Sperrey, managing director at UPS Systems discusses the use of fuel cells as an alternative to batteries, generators and even mains grid power.

As the next generation in sustainable energy, fuel cells can offer a cleaner alternative to batteries, generators and mains grid power. As proven technology, they are commercially viable for use in the mainstream market. Also, as a flexible solution, they are suitable for use in a range of business applications.

Most fuel cells are designed to support specific loads, so the main factor that is likely to determine what system to specify is the power output. Broadly speaking, fuel cells fall into three power categories:

1. Up to 1kW: provided by both direct methanol and hydrogen fuel cells offering prime power for small applications.

2. Up to 90kW: provided by hydrogen fuel cells offering instant availability for standby power.

3. Up to 400kW: provided by both natural gas and anaerobic digester gas (ADG) offering prime power for large applications.

Furthermore, certain fuel cells are better suited for specific applications, as I will explain further.

Trains and highways

Direct methanol fuel cells are ideal for providing prime power for operating signalling, signage and security equipment such as CCTV. The units are compact and lightweight making them easily portable between different locations. You can also leave them for extended periods between refuelling, reducing time spent onsite, changing fuel canisters.


Building contractors need continuous power to operate tools, lighting and other equipment. Hydrogen fuel cells can offer a cost-effective alternative to generators, providing a 'plug and play' solution that requires no installation.

Remote monitoring

Some organisations may require off-grid power to run telemetry equipment in remote locations. Direct methanol fuel cells offer a better solution than renewable energy sources as they offer predictable power output regardless of sun and wind conditions. They are also silent in operation.

IT departments, telecoms and computer rooms

For IT equipment larger hydrogen fuel cell systems can offer protection from power failures. Businesses can run them as standalone units, or can use them in parallel for greater power output. As they only produce clean emissions, they can be housed inside the computer room and can be rack-mounted.


Any organisation now has the option of being truly green through onsite energy generation using hybrid installations. Renewable energy sources produce hydrogen, which is stored onsite and used by the fuel cell to generate electricity for the building.

Data centres, offices, retail outlets, hospitals and universities

Larger organisations have the option of using fuel cells for either prime or standby power.

Large natural gas units offer a reliable source of prime power. Users also have the option of installing a more efficient combined heat and power (CHP) installation that uses waste heat generated by the fuel cell to warm the building. Fuel cells can also protect larger organisations from power outages. As long as there is a continuous supply of hydrogen, the units will operate for an indefinite period.

Until recently the UK has lagged behind in the adoption of this technology, with high capital costs serving as a barrier. However, there now appears to a new wave of fuel cell activity. Recently, we have seen manufacturers launching new products to extend the fuel cell product portfolio, and developing ways to help reduce capital costs and make the technology more financially attainable and available for a greater range of applications.

In a recent UPS Systems seminar - 'Fuel cells...real world applications for business - we suggested that the UK will see fuel cell growth hotspots in traffic signalling, remote monitoring and security, using smaller hydrogen and methanol fuel cells with power ranges between 25W to 150W for prime power and up to 15kW for standby power. This is because smaller fuel cells are reliable, durable and portable, and therefore are better suited to these types of applications.

It is important that companies start to look at fuel cells. Ultimately, they can help overcome the energy crisis by reducing dependence on oil, and revolutionise the power industry.

Contact Details and Archive...

Print this page | E-mail this page

Electrical Products