Direct borohydride fuel cells (DBFCs) are a subcategory of alkaline fuel cells which are directly fed by sodium borohydride or potassium borohydride as a fuel and either air/oxygen or hydrogen peroxide as the oxidant. DBFCs are relatively new types of fuel cells which are currently in the developmental stage and are attractive due to their high operating potential in relation to other type of fuel cells.
Sodium borohydride could potentially be used in more conventional hydrogen fuel cell systems as a means of storing hydrogen. The hydrogen can be regenerated for a fuel cell bycatalytic decomposition of the borohydride:
The simplified reaction is:
The working temperature of a direct sodium borohydride fuel cell is 70°C (158°F).
Unfortunately, DBFCs do produce some hydrogen from a side reaction of NaBH4 with water heated by the fuel cell. This hydrogen can either be piped out to the exhaust or piped to a conventional hydrogen fuel cell. Either fuel cell will produce water, and the water can be recycled to allow for higher concentrations of NaBH4.
More importantly, the process of creating electricity via a DBFC is not easily reversible. For example, after sodium borohydride (NaBH4) has released its hydrogen and has been oxidized, the product is NaBO2 (sodium metaborate). Sodium metaborate might be hydrogenated back into sodium borohydride fuel by several different techniques, some of which might theoretically require nothing more than water and electricity or heat. However, these techniques are still in active development. As of June 30, 2010, many patents claiming to effectively achieve the conversion of sodium metaborate to sodium borohydride have been investigated but none have been confirmed—the current efficiency of "boron hydride recycling" seems to be well below 1% which is unsuitable for recharging a vehicle.
Sodium borohydride costs US$50 per kg, but with borax recycling and mass production projected prices for the fuel are as low as US$1/kg.