Fuel cells

Fuel cells can be considered a subset of primary batteries. The distinction is that the electrolytes or reactants are stored separately: for large energy requirements the packaging of reactants separately from the reaction vessel is more efficient and therefore results in higher energy densities. The most usual types use hydrogen and oxygen, although methanol/air technologies are under development for terrestrial applications such as mobile communications. The fuel cells used on the Space Shuttle generate 12 kW with a very respectable specific power of 275 Wkg~1.

The modest power requirements of planetary probes, coupled with the relatively high cost and complexity (particularly with regard to hydrogen storage) means they are rarely used on planetary probes - the only relevant case being the Apollo lander.

As an aside, the electrochemical conversion technology of fuel cells can be applied differently, using electricity (from solar panels for example) to convert CO2 into oxygen. Similarly, a zirconia cell, like that used in fuel cells, was used on the MPL TEGA instrument to sense the presence of oxygen in gases evolved from a soil sample.

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