U.S. Navy Orders SOFC-Battery for Undersea Vehicle Propulsion

U.S. Navy Orders SOFC-Battery for Undersea Vehicle Propulsion

FuelCell Energy, Inc., a leading manufacturer of ultra-clean, efficient and reliable fuel cell power plants, announced a $3.8 million contract award from the U.S. Navy to develop and test a Hybrid Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC)-Battery power system for large displacement undersea vehicle propulsion.

The objective of the project is to develop a refuelable power system, with high energy density, that is suitable for undertaking long duration underwater missions of unmanned submersibles. The Hybrid SOFC-Battery system will be capable of generating 1,800 kilowatt hours of electricity during a 70 day mission with no exhaust discharged outside of the vehicle at any time. It will use liquid fuel and be self-contained with no reliance on external air.

“This is a challenging and exciting project due to the unique installation and we expect to apply knowledge gained from this project into a range of other applications including maritime applications of fuel cells and auxiliary power units,” said Tony Leo, Vice President Application Engineering & Advanced Technology Development, FuelCell Energy, Inc. “Developing a compact solid oxide fuel cell balance of plant with a liquid fuel, will not only have potential for deployment in defense-related applications, but has viability as power systems for use in commercial underwater vehicles, marine vessels, and remote-sites.”

The FuelCell Energy Hybrid SOFC-Battery power system is attractive for underwater vehicle applications as its high efficiency minimizes usage of both stored fuel and oxygen in the confined spaces available onboard the vehicle. The system achieves air independence by utilizing a unique oxygen storage technology, maintains neutral buoyancy with no discharge of system products and is capable of responding to the peak power demands for a typical Large Displacement Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (LDUUV) as defined by the U.S. Navy.

A consortium will work with the FuelCell Energy team to fulfill the program requirements. The SOFC fuel cell stack is based on the technology developed by Versa Power Systems, an SOFC developer that is partially owned by FuelCell Energy. Other team partners include the Energy Systems Division of NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, Yardney Technical Products, Inc., Naval Underwater Warfare Center (NUWC), and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). This diverse team has the expertise required to meet the state-of-the-art system design, safety, and reliability of U.S. Navy specifications. NASA will develop the oxygen storage required by the power system, Yardney will supply the battery technology, and PNNL will provide compact fuel processing design knowledge. NUWC will complement the team on a range of topics including the logistics of systemization, integration, and tie-ins with the balance of LDUUV systems.

This 18 month phase I award will fund development and laboratory testing of the SOFC propulsion system. Successful performance results may lead to a phase II award that would involve the delivery of a full scale system for testing in an unmanned undersea vehicle.

Subsea World News Staff , July 27, 2012; Image: ONR.Navy/FuelCell

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