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Research - Fuel Cells

JPL's Electrochemical Research, Technology, & Engineering Group research and technology development efforts include the development of fuel cell and electrolyzer technologies for space, military and commercial applications. Fuel cell technologies under development have included direct methanol fuel cells (DMFC), proton exchange membrane (PEM) and alkaline exchange membrane (AEM) fuel cells. These development efforts span a wide range of activities from high throughput materials screening for catalyst discovery, system-level modelling and design, membrane-electrode assembly fabrication and testing, and integration of fuel cells with rechargeable batteries. Current effort focus on a next generation of primary fuel cell systems, capable of supporting outer planets exploration and long duration surface operations.

Much of the focus is on portable power systems, capable of operating in harsh environments. Recent efforts have focused on the design of compact, portable regenerative fuel cell systems, to support large rovers and even human operations on Mars. The group is developing portable regenerative fuel cell systems (RFCs) that have targeted NASA applications, but can also be deployed terrestrially. These RFC systems are modular and can accommodate a range of energy storage configurations. Hydrogen generation via water and methanol electrolysis is also a key development effort, particularly in the area of high pressure electrolysis.

A fuel cell/electrolyzer system, for powering the ATHLETE Rover. A demonstration of this capability in the JPL Mars Yard is depicted here.
Modular Regenerative Fuel Cell Design
Artists depiction of modular regenerative fuel cell design, developed at JPL.

Prototype cell hardware
Prototype cell hardware used by the JPL Electrochemical Research, Technology, & Engineering Group, for evaluation of membrane electrode assemblies operating in harsh environments.
Electrolysis test-bed
Electrolysis test-bed, for the high pressure generation of hydrogen.

Portable electrolysis unit
Portable electrolysis unit, for generating hydrogen from methanol.