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US Navy awards FuelCell Energy $3.8M Phase I contract for Hybrid SOFC-Battery system for Large Displacement Unmanned Underwater Vehicle

The Navy program seeks to enable the operation of pier-launched UUVs in littorals for 70+ days. Source: US Navy. Click to enlarge.

The US Navy has awarded FuelCell Energy, Inc. a $3.8-million Phase I contract to develop and test a Hybrid Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC)-Battery power system for large displacement undersea vehicle propulsion. The objective of the project is to develop a refuelable power system, with high energy density, that is suitable for undertaking long duration underwater missions of unmanned submersibles.

The Hybrid SOFC-Battery system will be capable of generating 1,800 kWh of electricity during a 70-day mission with no exhaust discharged outside of the vehicle at any time. It will use liquid fuel and be self-contained with no reliance on external air.

This is a challenging and exciting project due to the unique installation and we expect to apply knowledge gained from this project into a range of other applications including maritime applications of fuel cells and auxiliary power units. Developing a compact solid oxide fuel cell balance of plant with a liquid fuel, will not only have potential for deployment in defense-related applications, but has viability as power systems for use in commercial underwater vehicles, marine vessels, and remote-sites.

—Tony Leo, Vice President Application Engineering & Advanced Technology Development, FuelCell Energy, Inc.

The FuelCell Energy Hybrid SOFC-Battery power system is attractive for underwater vehicle applications as its high efficiency minimizes usage of both stored fuel and oxygen in the confined spaces available onboard the vehicle.

The system achieves air independence by utilizing a novel oxygen storage technology, maintains neutral buoyancy with no discharge of system products and is capable of responding to the peak power demands for a typical Large Displacement Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (LDUUV) as defined by the US Navy.

A consortium will work with the FuelCell Energy team to fulfill the program requirements. The SOFC fuel cell stack is based on the technology developed by Versa Power Systems, an SOFC developer that is partially owned by FuelCell Energy. Other team partners include the Energy Systems Division of NASA's Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, Yardney Technical Products, Inc., Naval Underwater Warfare Center (NUWC), and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).

NASA will develop the oxygen storage required by the power system, Yardney will supply the battery technology, and PNNL will provide compact fuel processing design knowledge. NUWC will complement the team on a range of topics including the logistics of systemization, integration, and tie-ins with the balance of LDUUV systems.

This 18-month phase I award will fund development and laboratory testing of the SOFC propulsion system. Successful performance results may lead to a phase II award that would involve the delivery of a full scale system for testing in an unmanned undersea vehicle.

LDUUV. In 2011, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) issued a Broad Agency Announcement (ONRBAA Announcement # 11-025) for the development of technologies critical to The Large Displacement Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (LDUUV) Innovative Naval Prototype (INP). The goal is to enable UUVs to operate and survive in the littorals for 70+ days. The LDUUV is a pier-launched and recovered UUV (without the need for ship-launch or recovery) with the capability to transit in the open ocean and conduct over-the-horizon missions in littoral waters.

The system is intended to enable the extension of Navy platform sensing capability over the horizon and extend its influence. ONR identified two technology areas as critical: Autonomy and Endurance Technologies.



does it use diesel in the SOFC?.. how does it keep from venting CO2?


Never hoppen, Joe!


@ Herm

Could liquify CO2 to store in an on board tank.

Henry Gibson

Vanadium flow batteries could be used if volume were not restricted.

ZEBRA batteries, now from FZSONICK or the similar DURATHON batteries from GE, now in official production, can meet the requirements of these vehicles. The liquids in such cells are sodium and aluminum chloride.

Chlorine can be kept liquid at normal temperature in pressure containers. Sodium can be made into liquid at the boiling point of water, and it can be combined with potassium to be liquid at room temperature,(NAK).

SOFC fuel cells operate at very high temperatures, higher than a fuel cell that could be invented to combine liquid sodium with liquid chlorine to produce liquid salt at some what lower temperatures.

The ZEBRA type battery encloses all of the fuel elements within a single container, but is much like a fuel cell in that the solid electrolyte, Sodium-Beta-Alumina can process as much sodium as can be brought to it.

The sodium sulphur battery can be made as a fuel cell with liquid sodium and liquid sulphur brought from external tanks and sodium polysulphide sent to a tank.

As with the ZEBRA battery type, the sodium and sulphur do not take up much more room in multiple cells rather than in tanks and the maximum power produced is greater.

The SOFC could be operated in a pressure vessel at 2000 PSI and the CO2 would condense to liquid when it cooled to 31 degrees C., and the H2O at about 300 degrees C. Both gases could be run through turbines to cool them a bit and to get more energy.

In all cases, free piston stirling engines can be used to recover heat or to keep oxygen liquid. Or the liquid ionic salt compressor can efficiently keep the oxygen liquid with the Linde process. ..HG.

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