Competition to develop fuel-cell systems for the home is heating up, and some could be on the market as early as next year. The spread of such systems to generate electricity will help conserve fuel and could slow down environmental destruction. The government is giving full support to these moves and has established a target of meeting 4.5% of all household electricity needs with fuel cells by 2010.
Fuel cells for the home generate electricity and hot water when oxygen reacts chemically with hydrogen that has been extracted from natural gas and other fuels. Such cells for motor vehicles have already been developed, and the first fuel-cell-powered automobiles went on sale late last year.
To make them feasible for home use, though, technical improvements were required to ensure a steady supply of electricity and to make the equipment small enough to be placed around the home. Another big bottleneck was cost. These obstacles have now been cleared to a considerable degree, opening the door to commercialization.