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GM and US Navy collaborating on fuel cell-powered underwater unmanned vehicles

General Motors, the Office of Naval Research and the US Naval Research Laboratory are cooperating to incorporate automotive hydrogen fuel cell systems into the next generation of Navy unmanned undersea vehicles, or UUVs. Under the ONR’s Innovative Naval Prototype program for Large Displacement UUVs (LDUUV), energy is a core technology in the Navy’s goals for vehicles with more than 60-days endurance.

The goal of the LDUUV program is to develop fully autonomous, long-endurance, unmanned undersea vehicles capable of operating near shore. The LDUUV program will develop new air-independent energy systems and core vehicle technologies to extend unmanned undersea vehicles endurance into months of operation time. Advanced autonomy and sensing will enable operation in the cluttered littoral environment.

The vehicle will be capable of being stowed, launched and recovered by multiple host platforms, including littoral combat ships, Virginia-class submarines and Ohio-class guided-missile submarines.

The Naval Research Laboratory recently concluded an evaluation of a prototype UUV equipped with a GM fuel cell at the heart of the vehicle powertrain. The tests, a key step in the development of an at-sea prototype, were conducted in pools at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Carderock, Md.

Office of Naval Research file photo. Click to enlarge.

Our in-water experiments with an integrated prototype show that fuel cells can be game changers for autonomous underwater systems. Reliability, high energy, and cost effectiveness—all brought to us via GM’s partnering—are particularly important as Navy looks to use UUVs as force multipliers.

—Frank Herr, ONR’s department head for Ocean Battlespace Sensing

Hydrogen fuel cell propulsion technology helps address two major automotive environmental challenges: petroleum use and carbon dioxide emissions. Fuel cell vehicles can operate on renewable hydrogen from sources such as wind and biomass stored for later use. Once converted to electricity, water vapor is the only emission. Refueling takes only minutes.

GM’s fuel cells are compact and lightweight, and have high reliability and performance. Lower cost is achievable through volume production. These attributes match the goals of the Navy to develop reliable, affordable systems.


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