To support NASA’s challenging space exploration goals for the next few decades, reliable power generation and energy storage technologies are needed. NASA is considering multiple approaches for using residual propellants from space travel or those generated via In-Situ Resource Utilization technologies for onsite power generation on the Moon and Mars. Solid oxide cells are well suited for NASA’s applications due to their high efficiency and performance, ability to operate reversibly in power generation and electrolysis modes, and flexibility to operate at wide temperature ranges with a variety of fuels. However, traditional cell architectures are limited in their ability to recover from high slew rates and rapid thermal changes and electrolyte hermeticity often suffers.
Metal-supported solid oxide cells (MSCs) are a game-changing technology for NASA. With a thin ceramic electrolyte enabling high electrochemical performance and porous metal supports providing unprecedented mechanical robustness, MSCs are well-suited for environments with high fluid pressures and vibration loads and extreme thermal changes. Nexceris’ MSC technology has been demonstrated to meet NASA current density targets at atmospheric conditions and has been scaled to large active areas without performance losses. In this Phase I STTR project Nexceris will work with Washington State University to demonstrate the capabilities of its highly robust and reversible planar MSCs under pressure and with pure oxygen.
Metal-supported solid oxide cells have the potential to meet multiple needs for NASA’s missions to the Moon during the Artemis program and future exploration of Mars. MSCs can use residual propellants (cryogenically stored oxygen and methane) to generate power for lunar landers, exploration rovers and life support technologies. The electrolysis capabilities of MSCs may be used for in-situ resource utilization by providing oxygen for life support and generating additional propellants from existing mineral resources.
The technology developed in this project will be directly applicable to unmanned underwater vehicle applications for the Navy. With the focus on robustness, power density, and rapid cycling capability, MSCs will also add considerable value for aviation applications and multiple nearer term applications, including portable power sources, military power systems, and automotive range extenders.