Naval Research Laboratory completes UAV flight with hydrogen-powered fuel cell
WASHINGTON. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) researchers completed the first flight of the Ion Tiger unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with a new built in-house hydrogen-powered fuel cell.
The NRL chemistry and tactical electronic warfare divisions built the custom fuel cell system, which is capable of up to 5,000 watts. It uses formed metal-foil bipolar plates that enabled researchers to saved space and weight.
“The decision to move to metal bipolar plates allowed us to leverage a lot of know how from the automotive industry’s large investment in hydrogen fuel cells” says Dr. Benjamin Gould, NRL’s chief scientist on the project. “Using the plates also enabled enhanced storage capabilities and weight savings that are critical for naval unmanned system applications.”
The bipolar plates, held together with titanium straps, serve as the structural backbone of the fuel cell system. They provide fluidic pathways for air, hydrogen, and coolant along with electronic pathways for conduction between the individual cells. NRL also contributed a custom microcontroller and lightweight air compressor. Gas and coolant flow fields were designed and validated with NRL’s own computational fluid design suite.
“NRL having the know how to build their own fuel cells in house gives ONR and the U.S. Navy the understanding and tools needed for transitioning fuel cells to the fleet,” says Michele Anderson, program manager at the Office of Naval Research (ONR).
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