One of the first ever drawings of a fuel cell (1842)
Sir William Robert Grove, judge & physicist, was the father of the modern fuel cell. He developed his idea through experimenting with sending an electric current through water splitting it into its component parts of hydrogen and oxygen. He then tried to reverse the process and combine hydrogen with oxygen to produce electricity and water thereby producing a simple fuel cell.
In this letter from the Ri’s archive, Grove writes to Michael Faraday in October 1842 to describe his new accomplishment:
I have just completed a curious voltaic pile which I think you would like to see, it is composed of alternate tubes of oxygen and hydrogen through each of which passes platina foil so as to dip into separate vessels of water acidulated with sulphuric acid the liquid just touching the extremities of the foil as in the rough figure below…………………….
……………. I cannot but regard the experiment as an important one both as to the chemical and other theories of the pile & as to the catalytic effect of the combination of the gases by platina.
The modern fuel cell is used to power anything from cars, buses, boats and submarines to providing back up power to hospitals, houses and inaccessible areas.