The program addresses technology gaps to enable fuel cell power systems that will meet the electrical power needs of future naval surface, subsurface and air systems, as well as Marine Corps land-based and man-portable system. These power generation systems have the potential to substantially reduce life cycle costs as a result of greater system efficiencies particularly under partial loading conditions. Their operational capability provides low audible noise and thermal signatures compared to other alternatives. In addition, this technology provides the potential for lower maintenance, lower costs and lower emissions including SOx and NOx than other comparable power generation systems.
This program leverages knowledge gained through early technology demonstration efforts initiated under the ONR Ship Service Fuel Cell Program in the mid-1990s. The current program has expanded to develop systems for shipboard, portable power, unmanned vehicle and mobile power applications. The program includes a broad-based basic research component that feeds into applied programs addressing the unique aspects of the targeted Navy and Marine Corps systems and platforms.
An operating fuel cell system consists of the fuel cell stack where energy conversion occurs, as well as the fuel and oxidizer tanks, the fuel processing subsystem (desulfurization and reforming, when required), air management, and control and conditioning electronics. The ONR Fuel Cell Program's basic research efforts are focused on developing new experimental techniques to directly probe relevant physics and chemistry in high temperature fuel cells and new multi-scale theoretical methods that span first principles atomistic understanding and cell level designs. Applied research efforts emphasize modeling and simulation to optimize the design balance between system efficiency, complexity, and volume to meet operational and environmental requirements. These requirements include the ability to use logistics fuel, provide reliable and responsive quality power, to operate in environmental extremes, and to withstand shock and vibration, with minimal operational signature, size and weight. Component and systems development and demonstration are also conducted in the applied research program.