Energy

Reversible fuel cell goes both ways for the US Navy

Boeing's reversible solid oxide fuel cell system in operation in Huntington Beach, California
Boeing's reversible solid oxide fuel cell system in operation in Huntington Beach, California
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Boeing's reversible solid oxide fuel cell system in operation in Huntington Beach, California
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Boeing's reversible solid oxide fuel cell system in operation in Huntington Beach, California
Boeing's reversible solid oxide fuel cell system in operation in Huntington Beach, California
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Boeing's reversible solid oxide fuel cell system in operation in Huntington Beach, California

Boeing has delivered a new type of fuel cell to the US Navy for testing that can both store energy and generate electricity. Called a "reversible solid oxide fuel cell," it's designed to absorb energy from renewable sources, such as wind and solar, then release it as required to provide commercial and military users with a cleaner, more sustainable source of power.

One of the major failings of renewable energy sources is that most of them are notoriously unreliable. The sun only shines part of the time and the wind is as unpredictable as… well, the weather. This is a particular problem for the US military, which operates under a policy of becoming a greener fighting force, but still needs power sources that are constant and predictable.

Sixteen months in development, the Boeing fuel cell system relies on a catalytic electrolysis process that uses electricity to break up water or other materials to generate hydrogen gas, which it then compresses and stores for later use. When electricity is needed, the fuel cell can reverse itself and burn the hydrogen to produce electricity with only water for waste. Boeing claims that this is the first time that both sides of the cycle have been combined into a single system.

The Boeing system was first tested on the Southern California Edison power grid at Boeing's Huntington Beach, California, facility. It will now be connected to the Navy microgrid at the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Engineering, and Expeditionary Warfare Center in Port Hueneme, California to see it can support military requirements.

"This fuel cell solution is an exciting new technology providing our customers with a flexible, affordable, and environmentally progressive option for energy storage and power generation," says Lance Towers, director, Advanced Technology Programs. "Boeing is known for successful innovation and technology advancement. As the company begins its second century, it's not surprising that we'd be at the forefront of helping solve the energy and technology challenges of the 21st century."

Source: Boeing

5 comments
EcoLogical
The fuel cell can reverse itself and 'burn' the hydrogen? Using the word 'burn' is a disservice to the advantage of a fuel cell since 'burning' implies combustion. The chemical reaction in a fuel cell produces electricity much more efficiently than 'burning' the hydrogen in a heat engine (ICE) since all heat engines are limited by the Carnot efficiency theorem (based on the temperature differences) whereas chemical reactions directly producing electricity are not!
Bob Flint
We keep looking for ways to more efficient energy, when its' right under our noses...................................................... Six feet under ground constant 15 degree temperature, tap into it for cooling, and heating and in a few locals even higher temperature differences can supply abundant energy during the lulls in both solar, & wind. The electrical driven pumps can be powered by the sun, wind, & batteries. Or if you have a body of water nearby tap into it.
Esteban Sperber Frankel
This reversible fuel cell are in the satellites long time ago, the fuell cells produce electricity and water steam, the steam could be used to a condesations turbine can produce more electricity and water for the electrolysis. I was thinking that the solid oxide fuel cells are more efficient with more or less 800 degree celsius steam!.
WB1200
This article doesn't address the elephant in the room; what is the advantage of this system over batteries? Is it more efficient than lithium ion batteries? Otherwise what's the point?
AngryPenguin
@WB1200- The advantage is capacity. Lithium batteries are the best option for small electronics, but on a warship, you can afford some moving parts.