research

Fuel cell technology for lunar surface operations

Abstract

Hydrogen-oxygen fuel cells have been shown, in several NASA and contractor studies, to be an enabling technology for providing electrical power for lunar bases, outposts, and vehicles. The fuel cell, in conjunction with similar electrolysis cells, comprises a closed regenerative energy storage system, commonly referred to as a regenerative fuel cell (RFC). For stationary applications, energy densities of 1,000 watt-hours per kilograms an order of magnitude over the best rechargeable batteries, have been projected. In this RFC, the coupled fuel cell and electrolyzer act as an ultra-light battery. Electrical energy from solar arrays 'charges' the system by electrolyzing water into hydrogen and oxygen. When an electrical load is applied, the fuel cell reacts the hydrogen and oxygen to 'discharge' usable power. Several concepts for utilizing RFC's, with varying degrees of integration, have been proposed, including both primary and backup roles. For mobile power needs, such as rovers, an effective configuration may be to have only the fuel cell located on the vehicle, and to use a central electrolysis 'gas station'. Two fuel cell technologies are prime candidates for lunar power system concepts: alkaline electrolyte and proton exchange membrane. Alkaline fuel cells have been developed to a mature production power unit in NASA's Space Shuttle Orbiter. Recent advances in materials offer to significantly improve durability to the level needed for extended lunar operations. Proton exchange membrane fuel cells are receiving considerable support for hydrospace and terrestrial transportation applications. This technology promises durability, simplicity, and flexibility

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