Regenerative Fuel Cell for Off-Grid Renewable Energy Storage

EPA Grant Number: SU835089
Title: Regenerative Fuel Cell for Off-Grid Renewable Energy Storage
Investigators: Strickland, Daniel G. , Zabalegui, Aitor , Barker, Laughlin , Sizemore, Michael , Pimentel, Ross , Lele, Sandeep , Shah, Sapaan , Zalawadia, Sutyen
Current Investigators: Strickland, Daniel G. , Schwartz, Jeff , Sizemore, Michael , Pimentel, Ross , Lele, Sandeep , Krishnan, Shoba , Zalawadia, Sutyen
Institution: Santa Clara University
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2011 through August 14, 2012
Project Amount: $14,907
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2011) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Air Quality , P3 Awards , Sustainable and Healthy Communities


An estimated 1.6 billion people lack access to electricity. This project will offer a viable means to supply clean, reliable power to those in off-grid locations. We develop a portable, autonomous and unitized regenerative fuel cell capable of continuous, sustainable energy supply to meet energy demands in off-grid applications. When coupled with a photovoltaic cell, the system will manage energy supply and demand to ensure uninterrupted renewable power. The regenerative fuel cell leverages innovative capillary wicking structures for simplified and efficient performance. The proposed design will displace traditional lead-acid batteries for energy storage. Lead-acid batteries have variable and often short life cycles and are a major contributor to lead contamination and poisoning in developing countries.


A reversible 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. A control system will regulate 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 BlueEnergy in Nicaragua, to tailor system design and integration to meet the unique needs of rural, off-grid, applications.

Expected Results:

We will construct a proof-of-concept prototype, complete with working control system. This prototype will allow for design modifications through experimental characterization. The system will be evaluated on efficiency, power output, energy density, price competitiveness, and suitability for off-grid applications. Testing and demonstration will take place in Santa Clara University’s Solar Decathlon Houses. 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 2 Abstract

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report
  • P3 Phase II:

    Passive Unitized Regenerative Fuel Cell (PUReFC) for Energy Storage in Off-grid Locations  | 2013 Progress Report  | 2014 Progress Report  | Final Report