Bacon, Francis Thomas

Bacon, Francis Thomas
SUBJECT AREA: Aerospace
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b. 21 December 1904 Billericay, England
d. 24 May 1992 Little Shelford, Cambridge, England
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English mechanical engineer, a pioneer in the modern phase of fuel-cell development.
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After receiving his education at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, Bacon served with C.A. Parsons at Newcastle upon Tyne from 1925 to 1940. From 1946 to 1956 he carried out research on Hydrox fuel cells at Cambridge University and was a consultant on fuel-cell design to a number of organizations throughout the rest of his life.
Sir William Grove was the first to observe that when oxygen and hydrogen were supplied to platinum electrodes immersed in sulphuric acid a current was produced in an external circuit, but he did not envisage this as a practical source of electrical energy. In the 1930s Bacon started work to develop a hydrogen-oxygen fuel cell that operated at moderate temperatures and pressures using an alkaline electrolyte. In 1940 he was appointed to a post at King's College, London, and there, with the support of the Admiralty, he started full-time experimental work on fuel cells. His brief was to produce a power source for the propulsion of submarines. The following year he was posted as a temporary experimental officer to the Anti-Submarine Experimental Establishment at Fairlie, Ayrshire, and he remained there until the end of the Second World War.
In 1946 he joined the Department of Chemical Engineering at Cambridge, receiving a small amount of money from the Electrical Research Association. Backing came six years later from the National Research and Development Corporation (NRDC), the development of the fuel cell being transferred to Marshalls of Cambridge, where Bacon was appointed Consultant.
By 1959, after almost twenty years of individual effort, he was able to demonstrate a 6 kW (8 hp) power unit capable of driving a small truck. Bacon appreciated that when substantial power was required over long periods the hydrogen-oxygen fuel cell associated with high-pressure gas storage would be more compact than conventional secondary batteries.
The development of the fuel-cell system pioneered by Bacon was stimulated by a particular need for a compact, lightweight source of power in the United States space programme. Electro-chemical generators using hydrogen-oxygen cells were chosen to provide the main supplies on the Apollo spacecraft for landing on the surface of the moon in 1969. An added advantage of the cells was that they simultaneously provided water. NRDC was largely responsible for the forma-tion of Energy Conversion Ltd, a company that was set up to exploit Bacon's patents and to manufacture fuel cells, and which was supported by British Ropes Ltd, British Petroleum and Guest, Keen \& Nettlefold Ltd at Basingstoke. Bacon was their full-time consultant. In 1971 Energy Conversion's operation was moved to the UK Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell, as Fuel Cells Ltd. Bacon remained with them until he retired in 1973.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
OBE 1967. FRS 1972. Royal Society S.G. Brown Medal 1965. Royal Aeronautical Society British Silver Medal 1969.
Bibliography
27 February 1952, British patent no. 667,298 (hydrogen-oxygen fuel cell). 1963, contribution in W.Mitchell (ed.), Fuel Cells, New York, pp. 130–92.
1965, contribution in B.S.Baker (ed.), Hydrocarbon Fuel Cell Technology, New York, pp. 1–7.
Further Reading
Obituary, 1992, Daily Telegraph (8 June).
A.McDougal, 1976, Fuel Cells, London (makes an acknowledgement of Bacon's contribution to the design and application of fuel cells).
D.P.Gregory, 1972, Fuel Cells, London (a concise introduction to fuel-cell technology).
GW

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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