Precision Combustion, Inc. (PCI), in collaboration with a Research Institution, proposes to develop a new fuel cell design utilizing a solid electrolyte technology that will meet NASA’s target specifications of (i) cycling through very low temperatures (<150K) to survive storage during lunar night or cis-lunar travel; (ii) recovery of >98% of its mechanical, electrical, and chemical performance post cycling; (iii) capability to process propellants and tolerate standard propellant contaminants without performance loss; (iv) potential capability to sustain high fluid pressures and vibration loads; and (v) achieving current density of >300 mA/cm2 (for >500 hrs), transient currents of >750 mA/cm2 for 30 seconds and slew rates of >50 A/cm2/s. The fuel cell will consist of a solid electrolyte in an innovative design configuration and internal reforming catalysts that show potential for meeting objectives, while allowing fuel cell operation with propellants (e.g., H2 and CH4). The innovative design and integration of reforming elements will allow for effective fuel cell operation with tolerance to extreme temperature swing, thermal cycling, and other operational requirements. A faster system start-up is also possible with this approach. At the end of Phase I, a proof-of-concept demonstration will be reported and a clear path towards a Phase II prototype will be described, where a breadboard fuel cell system will be developed, demonstrated, and delivered to a NASA facility for demonstration testing in a relevant environment. PCI’s approach will result in a system that will be much smaller, lighter, and more thermally effective than current technology or prospective alternative technologies. This effort will be valuable to NASA as it will significantly reduce the known mission technical risks and increase mission capability/durability/extensibility while at the same time increasing the TRL of the fuel cells for lunar/Mars power generation and ISRU application.
Potential NASA applications include future power generation systems from propellants and LOX initially for lunar bases and supporting upcoming Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS). The systems have applicability over a broad range of mobile and stationary lunar surface systems, including landers, rovers, robotic rovers, and various science platforms. Key potential customers include NASA Glenn Research Center, NASA Johnson Space Center, and private sector customers.
Targeted non-NASA applications will be for automotive, defense, and distributed power generation opportunities which rely on fast start, vibration tolerance, and high efficiency. It will also be applicable to SOFC-based military generators/vehicle APU’s, commercial vehicle APU’s and stationary fuel cell CHP applications seeking a more cost-effective, lightweight, and power dense fuel cell stack.