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PEM Fuel Cell History

Plug Power's 7KW residential PEM fuel cell power plant.  
"Plug Power's 7KW residential PEM fuel cell power plant"  

  Avista Laboratory's 7.5KW PEM fuel cell power plant.
  "Avista Laboratory's 7.5KW
PEM fuel cell power plant with
60-watt, hot-swap submodules,
for residential applications"

Images courtesy of
Breakthrough Technologies Institute/Fuel Cells 2000.

Plug Power is a small company in upstate New York that has been developing a PEM fuel cell for residential use. The unit above, which operated on natural gas, was tested in a home during the late 1990s. Detroit Edison cofounded the company and General Electric agreed in 1999 to distribute and service Plug Power cells. This kind of prominent support boosted expectations of a commercial introduction of the fuel cell in 2002. While that goal proved a bit too optimistic, work has continued.

Avista Labs had also been researching a PEM fuel cell for residential use. Their cell features replaceable power modules that customers can easily swap out. Working with Black & Veatch and UOP, which makes the fuel processing unit, Avista placed a commercial cell on the market, but for backup industrial power. However, the parent company was losing money on the effort, according to a report on The, leading them to sell a majority stake in Avista Labs to a group of investors in mid 2003.
[Alison Boggs, "Avista Labs gets $7.5 million boost," 22 July 2003, online at:

The company was renamed ReliOn, Inc. in 2004 and focused on industrial fuel cells. On its website, the company explained that: "At this time ReliOn is not marketing fuel cells for residential use. We believe that the technology today is not affordable enough to introduce into the residential marketplace. Additionally, building codes and standards for the use of fuel cells in a residential setting are yet to be established."

If you have information about these fuel cell projects or other fuel cell technologies now in development, please fill out the Collecting History questionnaire accessible through the link at the top of the previous page.

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