Through a cooperative agreement, Northwest UAV (NWUAV) and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory  (NRL) have successfully completed a hydrogen fuel cell prototype designed specifically for the high power-to-weight ratio and harsh operational requirements of unmanned systems.

After a successful first operational test, NWUAV and NRL plan further developments to their hydrogen fuel cell prototype, with a test flight slated for later this year.

“It is very gratifying to turn research sustained by the Office of Naval Research into a commercial product,” said Dr. Karen Swider-Lyons, Director of the Laboratory of Autonomous Systems Research at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. “With new manufacturing support from the Department of Defense Manufacturing Technology Program and a cooperative agreement we are creating a new generation of aerial propulsion technology that will greatly advance the capabilities of our warfighters.”

The Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) Fuel Cell is compact, reliable, and lightweight. The PEM Fuel Cell creates electricity through the direct electrochemical process of turning hydrogen into water. This design allows for modularity and scalability to meet different power requirements of a broad range of unmanned systems. The PEM system pictured contains 48 cells and is rated for 1400 watts of continuous power. The high efficiency of fuel cells combined with the high energy of hydrogen creates systems for long-endurance electric propulsion.

“This is the most advanced and efficient hydrogen fuel cell ever produced for unmanned systems applications,” explained Dr. Ben Gould of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory’s Alternative Energy Section, Chemistry Division. “This particular design is based on a culmination of 15 years of research on hydrogen fuel cells and dozens of flights on various unmanned aircraft. A stackable design is uniquely scalable and easily customizable to fit various propulsion requirements and can maximize power-to weight ratio.”

The PEM Fuel Cell has successfully completed initial operations testing and continues development towards its first test flight later this year.

“The unmanned systems industry is rapidly evolving. Qualities like reliability, maintenance, operating cost, and efficiency are becoming increasingly significant to manufacturers and their end users,” explained Jeff Ratcliffe, NWUAV Chief Technical Officer. “Hydrogen fuel cells have very few moving parts resulting in high reliability and low maintenance. They promise the long endurance of an internal combustion system at the low operating costs of battery powered systems, creating a compelling value proposition for the unmanned systems industry.”

Source: Press Release

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