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A comparison between the alkaline fuel cell (AFC) and the polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell

Fuel Cell Technology and Applications

Alkaline fuel cells and systems (AFC)

  1. K. Kordesch,
  2. M. Cifrain

Published Online: 15 DEC 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470974001.f304065

Handbook of Fuel Cells

Handbook of Fuel Cells

How to Cite

Kordesch, K. and Cifrain, M. 2010. A comparison between the alkaline fuel cell (AFC) and the polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell. Handbook of Fuel Cells. .

Author Information

  1. Graz University of Technology, Graz, Austria

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 DEC 2010


This comparison discusses the electrode and system design differences between acid fuel cells with an immobilized electrolyte (e.g., contained in a matrix, in a gelled layer or in a membrane) and alkaline systems, mainly using a free flowing electrolyte. The inherent electrochemical and technological advantages and disadvantages are pointed out. The likely reasons for the historically often changed selection of certain fuel cell types for various applications are presented, relating the choices to opportunities and technical circumstances. These choices are by no means final and are still open. However, they depend not so much on technical or electrochemical problems and solutions, but on available materials, manufacturing feasibilities and in particular on the cost of the total system to be used for a specific purpose. A modern example is the planned use of polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells for electric vehicles. These membrane fuel cells are supposed to replace a combustion engine which costs $50–100 kW−1 power output, but do require at the present time an investment of thousands of dollars per kilowatt. Why did so many proponents chose this system and/or this application? Can other systems do better? This comparison suggests alternatives.


  • alkaline fuel cell;
  • fuel;
  • comparison;
  • liquid electrolyte