Fuel Cell Engineer
A fuel cell engineer could...
|Design a network of hydrogen fueling stations so that users can fill up with hydrogen just like gasoline.||Develop a new coating that will enable a fuel cell to operate using either fossil fuels or hydrogen-based fuels.|
|Make a fuel cell with an efficiency high enough to power a city bus all day long without refueling.||Create and test fuel cell models to determine which designs work better under humid tropical conditions versus dry desert air.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||Most of the world's energy comes from fossil fuels. However, the amount of fossil fuels is finite, and many people are concerned about where our energy will come from in the future. We can turn to alternative, renewable sources of fuel, such as our sun (solar energy) and the winds (wind energy). But what happens when the sun doesn't shine or the winds don't blow? Would we be stuck? Well, that is where the fuel cell comes in. A fuel cell is an electrochemical device that generates electricity through a reaction between a fuel, like hydrogen, and an oxidant, like oxygen. This reaction produces few greenhouse gas emissions other than water or water vapor. The job of the fuel cell engineer is to design new fuel cell technology that improves the reliability, functionality, and efficiency of the fuel cell. Do you like the idea of using your math and science skills to work on mankind's future energy needs? Then start "fueling your future" and read more about this career.|
|Key Requirements||Strong problem-solving and troubleshooting abilities, teamwork skills, good communication skills, persistence, creativity, flexibility|
|Minimum Degree||Bachelor's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Chemistry, physics, biology, geometry, algebra II, calculus; if available, computer science|
|Projected Job Growth (2010-2020)||Average (7% to 13%) In Demand!|
Training, Other Qualifications
College graduates beginning their fuel cell engineering careers usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers and, in large companies, also may receive formal classroom or seminar-type training. As new fuel cell engineers gain knowledge and experience, they are assigned more difficult projects with greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions. Fuel cell engineers may advance to become technical specialists or to supervise a staff or team of engineers and technicians. Some eventually may become engineering managers or enter other managerial or sales jobs.
Education and Training
A bachelor's degree in chemical engineering, materials science, mechanical engineering, or electrical engineering is required for almost all entry-level fuel cell engineering jobs. Graduate training is essential for engineering faculty positions and most research and development programs. Many experienced engineers obtain graduate degrees in engineering or business administration to learn new technology and broaden their education.
Admissions requirements for undergraduate engineering schools include a solid background in mathematics (algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus) and science (biology, chemistry, and physics), in addition to courses in English, social studies, and humanities. Bachelor's degree programs in engineering typically are designed to last four years, but many students find that it takes between four and five years to complete their studies. In a typical four-year college curriculum, the first two years are spent studying mathematics, basic sciences, introductory engineering, humanities, and social sciences. In the last two years, most courses are in engineering, usually with a concentration in one specialty. Some programs offer a general engineering curriculum; students then specialize on the job or in graduate school.
Fuel cell engineers should be creative, inquisitive, analytical, and detail oriented. They should be able to work as part of a team and to communicate well, both orally and in writing. Communication abilities are becoming increasingly important as engineers interact more frequently with specialists in a wide range of fields outside engineering.
Fuel cell engineers who work for the federal government usually must be U.S. citizens.
Nature of the Work
This video from the PBS series "NOVA" shows the electrochemical reaction taking place within a hydrogen fuel cell and briefly examines some challenges of how to make enough hydrogen for millions of fuel cells like it.
Fuel cells are among the promising technologies that are expected to transform the energy sector. They represent highly efficient and fuel-flexible technologies that offer diverse benefits. For example, fuel cells can be used in a wide range of applications—from portable electronics, to stationary electricity generation, to passenger vehicles. Due to the wide range of applications for fuel cells, fuel cell engineers can expect to have job opportunities and job growth in many areas of study.
Fuel cell engineers are involved in the design and development of new fuel cell devices and technologies. Fuel cells are made up of parts, like coated membranes and electrodes, that facilitate the reaction between the fuel and the oxidant. Fuel cell engineers work on improving each component of the fuel cell. This can include intensive testing of all components of the fuel cell. They also test fuel cell power-plant systems and create power-plant subsystem analysis. Fuel cell engineers are familiar with stack technologies, such as solid oxide and high-temperature proton exchange membrane (or PEM) designs, fabrication, and characterization techniques for fuel cells. Some fuel cell designs emit carbon dioxide. Fuel cell engineers are trying to find ways to capture and sequester the excess carbon dioxide safely. Government laboratories, private companies, and universities all work on fuel cell development.
Most fuel cell engineers work in office buildings, laboratories, or industrial plants. Fuel cell engineers work a standard 40-hour week. At times, deadlines or design standards may bring extra pressure to a job, requiring engineers to work longer hours.
On the Job
- Design fuel cell systems, subsystems, stacks, assemblies, or components, such as electric traction motors and power electronics.
- Analyze fuel cell or related test data, using statistical software.
- Calculate the efficiency and power output of a fuel cell system or process.
- Characterize component and fuel cell performances by generating operating maps, defining operating conditions, identifying design refinements, or executing durability assessments.
- Conduct fuel cell testing projects using fuel cell test stations, analytical instruments, or electrochemical diagnostics, such as cyclic voltammetry, impedance spectroscopy, and hydrogen pumps.
- Conduct post-service or failure analyses, using electromechanical diagnostic principles and procedures.
- Design or implement fuel cell testing or development programs.
- Develop fuel cell materials and fuel cell test equipment.
- Fabricate prototypes of fuel cell components, assemblies, stacks, or systems.
- Identify and define the vehicle and system integration challenges for fuel cell vehicles.
- Integrate electric drive subsystems with other vehicle systems to optimize performance or mitigate faults.
- Manage hybrid system architecture, including sizing of components such as fuel cells, energy storage units, and electric drives, for fuel cell battery hybrids.
- Plan or conduct experiments to validate new materials, optimize start-up protocols, reduce conditioning time, or examine contaminant tolerance.
- Provide technical consultation or direction related to the development or production of fuel cell systems.
- Recommend or implement changes to fuel cell system design.
- Simulate or model fuel cell, motor, or other system information using simulation software programs.
- Validate design of fuel cells, fuel cell components, or fuel cell systems.
- Authorize the release of parts or subsystems for production.
- Coordinate engineering or test schedules with departments outside engineering, such as manufacturing.
- Plan or implement cost reduction or product improvement projects in collaboration with other engineers, suppliers, support personnel, or customers.
- Prepare test stations, instrumentation, or data acquisition systems for use in specific tests.
- Read current literature, attend meetings or conferences, and talk with colleagues to stay abreast of new technology and competitive products.
- Write technical reports or proposals related to engineering projects.
Companies That Hire Fuel Cell Engineers
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
- Fuel Cells—Fueling the Future!
- Powered by Pee: Using Urine in a Microbial Fuel Cell
- Salt Bridge Over Electrified Waters: How Electricity Changes pH
- Turn Mud into Energy with a Microbial Fuel Cell — and a Dash of Salt
- Waste Not, Want Not: Use the Microbial Fuel Cell to Create Electricity from Waste
- Water to Fuel to Water: The Fuel Cycle of the Future
Do you have a specific question about a career as a Fuel Cell Engineer that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- BLS. (2009). Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), 2008-09 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://www.bls.gov/oco/
- O*Net Online. (2009). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://online.onetcenter.org/
- NuveraBlog. (2010, June 8). 10 Questions with a fuel cell engineer. Retrieved October 27, 2010, from www.nuvera.com/blog/?p=1213
- General Motors Company. (2010). Fuel cell engineer develops tomorrow's power. Retrieved October 22, 2010, from http://education.gm.com/corporate/responsibility/education/5-8/careers/profiles/profile-datta.html
- NOVA scienceNOW. (2005, July 29). Fuel cells: Expert Q&A. Retrieved October 27, 2010, from www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/miller-fuel-cells.html
- U.S. Department of Energy. (2010, August). Jobs in fuel cell technologies. Retrieved October 28, 2010, from http://www1.eere.energy.gov/library/pdfs/fuel_cell_green_jobs_fs_9-13.pdf
We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:
- Northrop Grumman
- Motorola Solutions Foundation