NAVAIR

Weapons Division to test one-of-a-kind renewable energy system

This trailer-mounted regenerative fuel cell system can be towed to remote locations along with an array of solar panels to produce energy using water and sunshine. The NAWCWD Renewable Energy Office took delivery of this one-of-a-kind system in September 2012 for testing at China Lake. (U.S. Navy photo)

This trailer-mounted regenerative fuel cell system can be towed to remote locations along with an array of solar panels to produce energy using water and sunshine. The NAWCWD Renewable Energy Office took delivery of this one-of-a-kind system in September 2012 for testing at China Lake. (U.S. Navy photo)

Feb 28, 2013

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NAVAL AIR WARFARE CENTER WEAPONS DIVISION, CHINA LAKE, Calif. — The NAWCWD Renewable Energy Office recently received a trailer-mounted regenerative fuel cell system that could save money and warfighter lives.

“Fuel cells are not a new idea, but this system is one-of-a-kind in that all it needs to run is water and sunshine, then it powers itself,” said Matt Malone, an electronics engineer in the Renewable Energy Office. “It is completely environmentally friendly and all of the fuel cell parts are recyclable.”

The fuel cell is an energy producing device that takes hydrogen in as its fuel, and through an electrochemical reaction, makes electricity. The only by-product of the process is water and heat. Electrolysis, running a current through water, produces hydrogen and oxygen. This system stores the hydrogen and then feeds it back into the fuel cell.

“That’s where the ‘regenerative’ part comes in,” Malone said. “The system uses the water that it produces to refuel itself.”

The system consists of a fuel cell and an array of solar panels. It is trailer-mounted so it can be towed just about anywhere, and can generate about 5,000 watts of electricity.

“A possible scenario is that this system can be taken out to a command post in the middle of nowhere,” Malone said.

Users of the system would pour in water and point the solar arrays at the sun. Through the solar panels the sun generates electricity, which is then sent into the water to produce hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen is vented into the atmosphere and the hydrogen is stored.

During the day, the command center would be powered by solar energy and excess energy would be used to generate hydrogen. At night, the stored hydrogen that was produced during the day would be sent through the fuel cell to create electricity.

“Again, the only by-products are water, which goes into a tank for use the next day, and heat.” Malone said. “What you don’t have in this scenario is diesel fuel, battery storage, and toxic emissions into the air.”

Malone and the Renewable Energy team wrote the requirements for the system and coordinated with a contractor that produced the hardware. The team will test and evaluate the system in a lab at China Lake before sending it out with troops for field testing.

“There is a whole logistics challenge associated with the use of fossil fuels, especially in remote areas,” said Wayne Taylor, program manager for the Renewable Energy Office. “Since this system only needs water to operate, one of its biggest benefits is reducing the logistics requirements associated with fuel convoys, which could save lives.”

Malone and Taylor both served in the military, and said they are aware of the challenges and dangers sometimes associated with serving abroad, especially in remote locations.

“There are men and women out there risking their lives for our safety,” Malone said. “We want to do whatever we can to help our warfighters stay alive. At the end of the day, this system could save lives.”

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