Skip to main content

Fuel Cells

Improving Fuel Cell Efficiency through Modeling Thermal Performance

Company Name: Altergy Systems
Program Office: Fuel Cells
Location: Folsom, CA
Award Amount ($): $150,000
Project Term: 12 months
Project Status: Active
Participating Lab(s): Sandia National Laboratories


Fuel cell technology is a potentially promising alternative to fossil fuels, especially since many chemical fuels can be produced cleanly. Improving fuel cell performance and reducing fuel cell cost is critical for making the technology more competitive and marketable, in both energy and transportation applications.

Altergy Systems (Altergy) designs and manufactures the Freedom Power Series of fuel cell power systems. Altergy was first established in October 2000 and has since become one of the leading stationary proton exchange membrane fuel cell manufacturers in the world, providing more than 8.3 megawatts of power through its systems.

The primary constraint in the fuel cell industry is high manufacturing costs for the fuel cell stack. For Altergy, this accounts for approximately 60 percent of the cost of its fuel cell engine. Most of that stack cost is in the fuel cell membranes themselves. Altergy believes that one path to reducing stack cost is to improve thermal performance, which could improve the cell's power density. Doing so could allow Altergy to reduce the size of the stack while maintaining power output, thus reducing the cost and making the technology available to a wider group of customers.

Sandia National Laboratories is uniquely suited to work with Altergy to create a multi-physics model of the fuel cell system using computational fluid dynamics modeling to assess multiple design modifications. Ultimately, Altergy will use the results to manufacture optimized fuel cell systems at lower costs and thereby increase market share.


Altergy calculates that utilizing Sandia's scientific resources could lead to increasing the power density of the stack by as much as 20 to 30 percent. This increased power output would ultimately drop the cost of the engine or, alternatively, increased density could allow Altergy to provide increased power at the same cost and footprint as its current model. Such an improvement would make the technology cost-competitive with diesel generators regardless of relevant tax incentives.


Developing lower-cost alternatives to diesel back-up generators can reduce fuel and maintenance costs. Manufacturing fuel cell components can also create jobs and foster more competition in the energy marketplace.

Fuel cells can be powered with hydrogen and other chemical sources that avoid the need for burning fossil fuels, reducing pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions.

Read about additional projects.