International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, Vol.45, No.8, 5543-5553, 2020
Fuel cell systems for long-endurance autonomous underwater vehicles - challenges and benefits
Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) are programmable, robotic vehicles that can drift, drive, or glide through the ocean without real-time control by human operators. AUVs that also can follow a planned trajectory with a chosen depth profile are used for geophysical surveys, subsea pipeline inspection, marine archaeology, and more. Most AUV5 are followed by a mother ship that adds significantly to the cost of an AUV mission. One pathway to reduce this need is to develop long-endurance AUV5 by improving navigation, autonomy and energy storage. Long-endurance AUVs can open up for more challenging mission types than what is possible today. Fuel cell systems are a key technology for increasing the endurance of AUVs beyond the capability of batteries. However, several challenges exist for underwater operation of fuel cell systems. These are related to storage or generation of hydrogen and oxygen, buoyancy and trim, and the demanding environment of the ambient seawater. Protecting the fuel cell inside a sealed container brings along more challenges related to condensation, cooling and accumulation of inert gases or reactants. This paper elaborates on these technical challenges and describes the solutions that the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI) has chosen in its development of a fuel cell system for long-endurance AUVs. The reported solutions enabled a 24 h demonstration of FFI's fuel cell system under water. The remaining work towards a prototype sea trial is outlined. (C) 2019 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd on behalf of Hydrogen Energy Publications LLC.