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Journal Article

Ultra-Compact Power System for Long-Endurance Small Unmanned Aerial Systems

Air-launched Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (SUASs) provide critical information to warfighters, but are currently limited by the power and energy available from small electric propulsion systems. This paper describes proof-of-concept testing of a novel power system for SUASs. The power system comprises a compact hydrogen generator and a hydrogen PEM fuel cell. The hydrogen generator uses ammonia borane (AB) as a solid chemical hydrogen storage material and heats the AB to produce hydrogen through thermal decomposition. The innovative ignition and control process generates highly pure hydrogen on-demand from a system that is very compact, lightweight, and rugged. We built a proof-of-concept hydrogen generator and used it to supply hydrogen to a small PEM fuel cell. The proof-of-concept generator used prototypical AB, heat source, control scheme, and purification media to absorb trace amounts of ammonia, borazine, and carbon monoxide (CO).
Journal Article

Demonstration of a Compact Hydrogen Fuel Cell Power System for UAS Propulsion

We have assembled and demonstrated a prototype power system that uses an innovative hydrogen generator to fuel an ultra-compact PEM fuel cell that is suitable for use in small unmanned aerial system (UAS) propulsion systems. The hydrogen generator uses thermal decomposition of ammonia borane (AB) to produce hydrogen from a very compact and lightweight package. An array of AB fuel pellets inside a low pressure container is activated sequentially to produce hydrogen on demand as it is consumed by the fuel cell. The fuel cell plant utilized in the power system prototype has been flown as part of several small UAS development programs and has logged hundreds of hours of flight time. The plant was designed specifically to be readily integrated with a range of hydrogen fueling subsystems and contains the balance of plant necessary to facilitate stand-alone operation. Based on results of these tests, we produced a conceptual design for a flight system.