Passive Unitized Regenerative Fuel Cell (PUReFC) for Energy Storage in Off-grid Locations

EPA Grant Number: SU835288
Title: Passive Unitized Regenerative Fuel Cell (PUReFC) for Energy Storage in Off-grid Locations
Investigators: Fabris, Drazen , Krishnan, Shoba , Tabrizi, Abdie
Institution: Santa Clara University
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Phase: II
Project Period: August 15, 2012 through August 14, 2014
Project Amount: $89,023
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet - Phase 2 (2012) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Energy , P3 Awards , Sustainability


An estimated 1.6 billion people lack access to electricity. This project offers a viable means to supply clean, reliable energy storage to those in off-grid locations. The device is designed to displace traditional lead-acid batteries, which have variable and often short life cycles and are a major contributor to lead contamination in developing countries. In Phase I of our research, we developed a Passive Unitized Regenerative Fuel Cell (PUReFC) to fulfill our objectives. The regenerative fuel cell leverages innovative capillary wicking structures for simplified and efficient performance. When coupled with a photovoltaic cell and an electrical control system, the device can manage energy supply and demand to ensure uninterrupted renewable power. Our objectives in Phase II are to optimize operation and scale up power production.


A regenerative proton exchange membrane fuel cell will generate electricity from hydrogen and oxygen source tanks to provide power to a load. During peak hours of insolation, photovoltaic panels will provide power for electrolysis – running the cell in reverse to resupply fuel tanks – and simultaneously supply power to a load. The electrical control system regulates operational parameters and system output to maintain optimal efficiency through modal shifts. In concert with Santa Clara University’s Sustainability Initiative, our design will be integrated as a functional educational tool in multiple avenues, including the university’s Solar Decathlon Houses. In addition, we will work with an outside partner to tailor off-grid applications.

Expected Results:

During Phase I testing, short-term characterization of discharge and charge mode performance showed good results. However, characterization of long-term performance revealed inconsistencies. In Phase II, we will pinpoint the issues causing performance degradation over long term operation. Following this, we aim to scale up power output. The system will be reevaluated on efficiency, power output, energy density, price competitiveness, and suitability for off-grid applications. Successful beta testing will demonstrate a sustainable and broadly applicable design capable of providing portable, off-grid energy.

Supplemental Keywords:

proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC), unitized regenerative fuel cell, photovoltaic, fuel cell energy systems, energy storage, renewable energy, innovative technology, pollution prevention, environmental sustainability,

Relevant Websites:

Phase 1 Abstract

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2013
  • Final

  • P3 Phase I:

    Regenerative Fuel Cell for Off-Grid Renewable Energy Storage  | Final Report