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. Car fueling Develop a new coating that will enable a fuel cell to operate using either fossil fuels or hydrogen-based fuels. hydrogen car refueling
Make a fuel cell with an efficiency high enough to power a city bus all day long without refueling. Hydrogen bus Create and test fuel cell models to determine which designs work better under humid tropical conditions versus dry desert air. Fuel cell model
Find out more...

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
Median Salary
Fuel Cell Engineer
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
Min Wage
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%)
  • Meet Glenn Rambach, a world-renowned expert in the hydrogen and fuel cell industry, as he answers 10 questions about his hydrogen and fuel cell career.
  • A hydrogen fuel cell vehicle engineer shows us what is under the hood (and body) of one of their cars.
  • Dr. Eric Miller, an alternative energy expert, answers questions in this Q&A about hydrogen fuel cells and their applications.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

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.

Other Qualifications

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

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.

Work Environment

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...

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"Gross! What is that in the toilet?" But maybe it's not just gross. Did you know there are bacteria that digest organic waste and create electrons? What if there was a way to collect those electrons to power a circuit? In this science fair project, you will make a microbial fuel cell to collect the electrons that the bacteria—anaerobic bacteria—create...only, you'll be using mud, which is much safer to handle than wastewater. If you would like to learn how to reuse and recycle an… Read more
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Generating power from mud sounds like science fiction, but it is actually real science, and a promising source of alternative energy. Topsoil is packed with bacteria that generate electricity when placed in a microbial fuel cell. Because such bacteria-laden soil is found almost everywhere on Earth, microbial fuel cells can make clean, renewable electricity nearly anyplace around the globe. They are an up-and-coming technology that scientists and engineers are working to make even more… Read more

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Additional Information


Additional Support

We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:

  • Chevron
  • Northrop Grumman
  • Motorola Solutions Foundation
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