US Navy Tests Hydrogen Fuel Cell for Future Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Operations

The US Navy has announced a new project, sponsored by the Expeditionary Warfare Centre, to test hydrogen fuel cells as a means of enabling autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to recharge without returning to a base or mothership.

This revolutionary initiative could extend mission durations and reach for AUVs, significantly increasing their independence and improving operational efficiencies. This blog will delve into the details of this project and explore its potential for revolutionizing the use of hydrogen fuel cells in underwater naval systems.

Details of the Project

The project is led by the US Naval Facilities Engineering Command Engineering and will begin testing early in 2024.

The Sabertooth AUV, a hybrid version of the Saab Sabertooth AUV, will be used in conjunction with the Subsea Supercharger (SSC) from Teledyne Energy Systems, a fuel cell technology designed for space applications. The SSC will provide power to extend the duration of the AUV’s mission, reducing the need for surface vessels to support the system.

Benefits and Potential of Hydrogen Fuel Cells for AUVs

Hydrogen fuel cells offer several significant benefits for AUVs. These include:

  • Increased independence: Hydrogen fuel cells enable AUVs to operate for longer periods independently, without requiring a return to the surface or a connection to a surface vessel. This allows for greater operational flexibility and range.
  • Reduced operational risks and costs: AUVs can significantly reduce operational risks and costs by avoiding the need to reconnect with a surface vessel or transport it back to shore.
  • Sustainable power generation: Hydrogen fuel cells offer a clean, renewable, and sustainable power source that can replace more polluting and less efficient power sources used in underwater operations.

Challenges and Solutions

While there are several benefits to using hydrogen fuel cells for underwater naval systems, there are also challenges to overcome. These include:

  • Research challenges related to hydrogen and oxygen storage, buoyancy and trim, and introducing fuel cell technology to a deep-sea environment.
  • Concerns about corrosion and malfunction caused by condensation in the sealed container.
  • Managing inert gases produced during fuel cell operation to prevent internal pressure build-up.
  • Addressing safety concerns related to the release of gases into the container atmosphere.

Final Thoughts

The US Navy’s project to trial hydrogen fuel cells for AUVs represents a significant step in advancing the capabilities of AUVs and exploring the potential of hydrogen fuel cell technology for underwater naval systems.

If successful, it could lead to a revolution in power generation for underwater systems, with benefits including increased independence, reduced risks and costs, and sustainable power generation. While there are several challenges to overcome, continued research and development are essential to realize the full potential of hydrogen fuel cells in naval systems and the broader marine industry.

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