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Naval Research Lab Flies UAV With Custom-Built Hydrogen Fuel Cell

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory’s chemistry and tactical warfare division has commenced the first flight of an unmanned air vehicle that uses an in-house built custom hydrogen-powered fuel cell.

NRL said Monday the team built and designed the fuel system for the Ion Tiger UAV with a capacity of up to 5,000 watts with the use of formed metal-foil bipolar plates held together with titanium straps to serve as the backbone of the system.

“The decision to move to metal bipolar plates allowed us to leverage a lot of know how from the automotive industry’s large investment in hydrogen fuel cells,” said Benjamin Gould, chief scientist for the fuel cell project at NRL.

“NRL having the know how to build their own fuel cells in house gives (Office of Naval Research) and the U.S. Navy the understanding and tools needed for transitioning fuel cells to the fleet,” added Michele Anderson, a program manager at ONR.

The research laboratory also developed a lightweight air compressor and microcontroller for the system along with a computational fluid design suite to design and validate gas and coolant flow fields.

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