Francis Thomas Bacon

Francis Thomas Bacon

Francis Thomas Bacon

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Francis Thomas Bacon OBE FREng F.R.S. (21 December 1904 at Ramsden Hall, Billericay, Essex, England – 24 May 1992), was an English engineer who developed the first practical hydrogen–oxygen fuel cell.

Life and works

Bacon was a direct descendant of Francis Bacon (Francis Bacon died without heirs) and was educated at Eton College and Trinity College, Cambridge. After Cambridge he became an apprentice with the Newcastle engineering firm owned by Sir Charles Parsons and was strongly influenced by him.

The principle of the fuel cell had been demonstrated by Sir William Grove in 1839 and other investigators had experimented with various forms of fuel cell. However unlike previous workers in the field, Bacon was an engineer and he was comfortable working with machinery operating at high temperatures and pressures.

He initially experimented with Grove's use of activated platinum gauze with a sulphuric acid electrolyte, but quickly moved on to use activated nickel electrodes with an aqueous potassium hydroxide electrolyte. In January 1940, he moved to a laboratory at King's College London and there developed a double cell, with one unit for generating the hydrogen and oxygen gases and the other for the fuel cell proper. This could be reversed so that it acted as both an electrolyser and a fuel cell. Problems were encountered due to the high operating temperatures and pressures and the corrosive nature of the chemicals.

In 1946, under new funding arrangements, the work moved to...
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