Structural fuel cells

Through the appropriate selection of materials and configurations, structural fuel cells are optimized to provide combinations of properties such as strength, stiffness, and power

Materials Energy

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Scientists at the Army Research Laboratory have recently invented fuel cells that can serve a secondary purpose as structural members. The patented technology is available via patent license agreement to companies that would make, use, or sell it commercially.

Fuel cells are silent in operation and capable of reliably delivering power and thus have many diverse applications. They are deployed in mobile applications for powering propulsion systems, communication systems, monitoring systems, and specialized electronics. In many instances, space and/or weight burden is at a premium in such applications and such size and weight constraints have limited the utility and practicality of particular fuel cell-based systems.

Directly addressing the size/weight/power tradeoff, ARL researchers have leveraged the combined structural properties such as strength and stiffness inherent in fuel cell materials together with their power-generating capability. Thus, the ARL developed fuel cells may be used to form structural elements of systems in which they are incorporated.

The fuel cell assembly includes two conductive electrode plates each comprised of a porous, open-cell material. A proton conductive membrane assembly separates the plates, and an outer skin encloses the configuration. The skin may likewise be a composite member comprised of matrix material, such as a polymeric material, with a reinforcing material of carbon, minerals, ceramics, glass, organic polymers such as polyimides or aramid polymers. The reinforcing material may be in the form of fibers or it may be in the form of particles, spheres, plates, or sheets.

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