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Fuel Cell Technicians

The Job

Manufacturers developed the electric car and the gas/electric hybrid as power options that are cleaner than gasoline and internal combustion engines. The fuel cell is another option that efficiently generates electricity and is powered by different fuels, such as natural gas and hydrogen. According to the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association, "Hydrogen is a clean, carbon-free fuel readily available from a variety of sources. When powered by hydrogen, fuel cells emit only water vapor as a byproduct. Fuel cells can run at any time of day and produce nearly zero noise. They are reliable, safe, and never need recharging."

Fuel cells work by using a chemical reaction instead of combustion (such as what is used in automotive engines). The different types of fuel cells include the Polymer Electrolyte Membrane Fuel Cell (PEMFC) used in vehicles and the direct Methanol Fuel Cell (DMFC) used in portable electronics. Fuel cells are used to power cars as well as for stationary electricity generation and portable electronics. They are used regularly for back-up power systems, specialty vehicles such as fork lifts and airport ground vehicles, portable power units, and combined heat and power production. Walmart, eBay, Sheraton, Adobe Systems, BMW, Albertsons, Coca-Cola, Google, Hilton, FedEx, Staples, Verizon, and Sprint are just some of the major corporations that use fuel cells for power. Find more fuel cell information at the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association's Web site, http://www.fchea.org.

Fuel cell technicians build fuel cells and test and maintain electrical systems and power plant systems, including blowers, pumps, heat exchangers, and sensors. They also build prototypes according to the instructions of engineers and other scientists; collect, maintain, and study fuel cell test data via spreadsheets and computer databases; calibrate and maintain equipment; and report the results of fuel cell test results to engineers. Some work as fuel cell field technicians, providing maintenance and service for purchasers of fuel cells.

Fuel cell technicians must have strong technology skills. The work requires knowledge of analytical or scientific software such as data acquisition software, and  computer-aided design software such as Autodesk AutoCAD. They also use Microsoft PowerPoint for presentations, and Microsoft Excel and Word for spreadsheets and document creation.

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