Emissions, Renewables

California Naval Air Weapons Station completes first phase test of solar/PEM regenerative fuel cell


Oct. 10, 2003 — The future of grid-independent power from regenerative fuel cells has advanced another step.

After sixty days of Phase I testing, engineers at the Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake and at Proton Energy Systems are using their findings to continue refining performance of Proton’s UNIGEN® RE regenerative solar/fuel cell power system.

“Our ultimate goal is to create a renewably-fueled power system, totally off the grid, that provides reliable long term operation and requires minimal maintenance,” said John Speranza, Proton Energy Systems’ renewable program engineering manager. “China Lake is providing us with valuable feedback. Proton will continue to respond with solutions to make the UNIGEN® RE system a valuable power alternative for essential military applications and beyond.”

The five-year development program at China Lake began in June using Proton’s 1 kW UNIGEN® RE regenerative solar/fuel cell system to demonstrate use of a power plant that generates electricity from renewable, non-polluting resources.

Phase one data will be used for system optimization. The goal is to develop a validated 5kW UNIGEN® system that can be deployed to remote locations that do not have access to the electrical grid in order to power essential functions, e.g. communications equipment.

The current UNIGEN® unit includes six major subsystems that work in a closed-loop system.

– A photovoltaic array which provides electricity to the unit’s internal Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) electrolysis hydrogen generator
– The PEM hydrogen generator, which generates hydrogen from water and solar power
– A hydrogen storage subsystem that stores hydrogen as a low pressure gas
– A fuel cell subsystem, which uses the stored hydrogen to generate electricity when solar power is not available
– A thermal management subsystem, and
– A controls subsystem

The UNIGEN® RE reclaims the fuel cell byproduct � water � for hydrogen generation. By recycling the system’s water, the UNIGEN® RE system conserves valuable water resources.

According to Sam Edwards, Navy project engineer, China Lake, the UNIGEN® RE system’s rate of hydrogen production and usage, and efficiencies of the systems’ individual components (photovoltaic array, hydrogen generator, fuel cell) have performed as predicted. “The hydrogen generator portion of the unit was easier to use than we expected, and there was no detectable loss of water in its round trip to hydrogen and back again,” he said.

“Based on our initial estimates, the system performed very well,” said Mike Cardin, Proton Energy Systems electrical/software engineer. “Heat stress was a critical factor in system operation. This will be one of our focuses during Phase II,” he added.

Phase II of the China Lake project will be a one-year demonstration test period for the UNIGEN. This phase will track the UNIGEN’s performance and reliability in extreme climate operation. The system will operate on a 24-hour profile to simulate real-life electrical load requirements. To maximize the system’s performance, Proton Energy Systems will recondition the UNIGEN for this demonstration period.

“Future applications of the UNIGEN system will include unattended operation in a remote area to power vital load requirements,” said Edwards.

Proton Energy Systems, Inc. (http://www.protonenergy.com) designs, develops and manufactures Proton Exchange Membrane, or PEM, electrochemical products that it employs in hydrogen generating devices and in regenerative fuel cell systems that function as power generating and energy storage devices. Proton’s HOGEN® and FuelGen hydrogen generators produce hydrogen from electricity and water in a clean and efficient process using its proprietary PEM technology. Proton is currently manufacturing and delivering HOGEN® hydrogen generators to customers for use in commercial applications.