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As the U.S. Army and its partners seek alternative forms of power and energy, fuel-cell technology is an increasingly important focal point. Fuel cells offer a quiet and efficient means of producing electrical power, because they typically operate off compressed hydrogen gas.
For the Army to capitalize on these benefits, it must find a better way to exploit available battlefield fuels, such as Jet Propellant-8 (JP-8). The GSPEL’s FCL is focused on researching and understanding the processing of JP-8 fuel for use with fuel cells to achieve power-dense, efficient power sources. Integrating a fuel processor with a fuel-cell stack is what defines a military fuel-cell power system. Lab engineers and technicians investigate, test and characterize full fuel-cell power systems and fuel processor performance for manned and unmanned military ground vehicles.
The FCL features four walk-in test enclosures, each equipped with a hydrogen supply line, steam and a JP-8 feed for research and evaluation of fuel-cell components and JP-8 processing technology.
Researchers can perform complete fuel and gas analysis to verify and fully understand fuel processing technologies. The lab is also capable of using modeling and simulation to confidently evaluate future designs.
We spoke to FCL Manager Daniel Maslach and his Team Leader Kevin Centeck about the new capabilities available at the FCL.
What capabilities does the lab offer and how will this research benefit the Army?
The lab enables the research, development and evaluation of fuel-cell system components, subsystem performance and complete fuel-cell power systems that use JP-8 fuel. This work will help ground combat and tactical vehicles perform “silent watch” mission scenarios with the main engine off, quietly and efficiently for extended durations, a capability that didn’t previously exist. This technology also enables extended-duration missions for small unmanned ground systems. Extended mission duration means less time required for battery charging or changing, so the unmanned system doesn’t need to return from performing its mission to recharge. These capabilities will contribute to saving warfighter lives, while also reducing fuel consumption, which are both extremely important to the Army.
What dual-use benefit can this provide to industry and academic partners, and what collaborative opportunities will it provide?
The FCL offers the capability to independently test up to four different systems at once, giving us exposure to multiple, different technology solutions and the ability to do long-duration tests, which will allow us to characterize maintenance intervals and reliability of components. The ability to test multiple systems and conduct research gives us multiple opportunities to reach out and collaborate with academia, industry and government partners throughout various stages of fuel-cell power system development.
To address research and testing in a safe environment, a single-unit safety system was developed in-house to monitor hydrogen, carbon monoxide and other hazardous conditions. The system can safely shut down any ongoing tests and notify associates in the case of an emergency. It was designed for easy upgrades and will ensure a safe working environment within the laboratory and inside the fume hoods.
What’s the first project/vehicle you’re going to test in this new lab?
The first system we will test is a 250 Watt fuel-cell power source developed by TARDEC and designed for the TALON robot. This fuel-cell system was integrated onto a TALON robot and taken to the Army Expeditionary Warfighter Experiment this past fall at Fort Benning, GA. This venue gives Soldiers the opportunity to try out new equipment through a series of exercises that provides researchers with useful feedback. We received positive feedback from the Soldiers on this technology, and are working to characterize the performance and fully assess the reliability and durability of this product in order to get it to them as quickly as possible.