Hydrogen + oxygen fuel cells powered the week-long Apollo missions to the Moon and Shuttle missions to orbit, and there is a industry trying to build itself around hydrogen-fed fuel cell-based road vehicles.

Cryogenic methane + oxygen deep space vehicles are probably coming, and missions could go well beyond Mars, to moons of Jupiter or Saturn possibly at some point, where solar power is only a few percent as strong as it is circa 1 AU. (see How far from the Sun can solar power be used as a reliable energy source?) Just look at Juno's giant solar panels and its fear of eclipses and Rosetta's need to hibernate when furthest from the Sun for examples.

Question: There is hydrogen in methane, so there is some potential for a fuel cell, but I'd like to know if there are any designs or research into a methane + oxygen based fuel cell for electrical power.

Yes, there are also proposed internal combustion space-engines and one could just use a natural gas powered electrical generator, but for the purposes of this question let's stick to conversion from chemical to electrical power using fuel cell technology.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Good question! Answer: Theoretically possible, but it's in the early stage of development. This might be helpful. Further in Solid oxide fuel cell, lighter hydrocarbons can be internally reformed. Simply methalox-based fuel cell is possible it's but under development. $\endgroup$
    – Vishnu
    Nov 5, 2019 at 5:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Intellex okay that's good news! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Nov 5, 2019 at 6:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Note: the correct terms would be methox or hydrox, the fuel cell doesn't run on liquid oxygen and gaseous fuel. And usually the oxygen is left assumed. $\endgroup$ Nov 5, 2019 at 14:22
  • $\begingroup$ @ChristopherJamesHuff that's a really good point! The fuel cell doesn't know it's on an interplanetary voyage aboard a big rocket with cryogenic storage. It only sees gas phase reactants that are probably pre-heated before reaching the catalysts. I've adjusted the wording accordingly. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Nov 5, 2019 at 18:28

1 Answer 1


This 2018 release from Georgia Tech describes one such - claimed to be more practical than previous methane-fueled cells because it operates at a lower temperature. It is a solid-oxide cell.

It appears to work by catalytically cracking the methane to hydrogen, and it seems that the advance is in the cracking part.


  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Thank goodness, it's about time somebody got cracking on this. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Nov 5, 2019 at 12:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.