High Energy Density Regenerative Fuel Cell Systems for Terrestrial Applications 1999-01-2600
Regenerative Fuel Cell System (RFCS) technology for energy storage has been a NASA power system concept for many years. Compared to battery-based energy storage systems, RFCS has received relatively little attention or resources for development because the energy density and electrical efficiency were not sufficiently attractive relative to advanced battery systems. Even today, RFCS remains at a very low technology readiness level (TRL of about 2 indicating feasibility has been demonstrated). Commercial development of the Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cells for automobiles and other terrestrial applications and improvements in lightweight pressure vessel design to reduce weight and improve performance make possible a high energy density RFCS energy storage system. The results from this study of a lightweight RFCS energy storage system for a remotely piloted, solar-powered, high altitude aircraft indicate an energy density up to 790 w-h/kg with electrical efficiency of 53.4% is attainable. Such an energy storage system would allow a solar-powered aircraft to carry hundreds of kilograms of payload and remain in flight indefinitely for use in atmospheric research, earth observation, resource mapping, and telecommunications. Future developments in the areas of hydrogen and oxygen storage, pressure vessel design, higher temperature and higher-pressure fuel cell operation, unitized regenerative fuel cells, and commercial development of fuel cell technology will improve both the energy density and electrical efficiency of the RFCS.