Development of Hydrogen-Based Portable Power Systems for Defense Applications
This dissertation describes the design and characterization of a lightweight hydrogen reactor coupled to a proton exchange membrane fuel cell for portable power delivery. The system is intended to recharge portable batteries in the absence of an established electrical power supply. The presented work can be divided into two endeavors; the first being an investigation of various hydrogen generation pathways and the second being the design, fabrication, and testing of a system to house hydrogen generation and deliver electrical power.
Two hydrogen storage materials are considered for this work: ammonia borane and sodium borohydride. Organic acids are investigated for their ability to accelerate the hydrolysis of either material and generate hydrogen on-demand. In the case of ammonia borane, organic acids are investigated for a secondary role beyond reaction acceleration, serving also to purify the gas stream by capturing the ammonia that is produced during hydrolysis. Organic acids are found to accelerate the hydrolysis of ammonia borane and sodium borohydride with relative indifference towards the purity of water being used. This is advantageous as it allows the user to collect water at the point of use rather than transport highly pure water for use as a reactant. Collecting water at the point of use increases system energy density as only ammonia borane or sodium borohydride and an organic acid are transported with the system hardware.
A custom hydrogen reactor is developed to facilitate hydrolysis of ammonia borane or sodium borohydride. The reactor is paired with a fuel cell to generate electrical power. The rate of hydrogen being generated by the system is modulated to match the fuel cell’s consumption rate and maintain a relatively constant pressure inside the reactor. This allows the system to satisfy a wide range of hydrogen consumption rates without risking over pressurization. The system is shown to produce up to 0.5 sLpm of hydrogen without exceeding 30 psia of hydrogen pressure or a temperature rise greater than 35°C.
The envisioned use for this system is portable battery charging for expeditionary forces within the United States military. This application informed several design choices and is considered when evaluating technological maturation. It is also used to compare the designed system to existing energy storage technologies.