FIELD AND SPACE ROBOTICS LABORATORY

DEPARTMENT OF MECHANICAL ENGINEERING

MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY

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Long-Life Micro Fuel Cell Power-Supplies for Field Sensors

 

Principle Investigators

Prof. Steven Dubowsky

Prof. Richard Wiesman

Group Members

Jekanthan Thangavelautham, Postdoc

Dan Strawser, MS Student

Huichao Deng, MS Exchange Student

Overview and Motivation

Human personnel are required for performing remote field monitoring work in security,  agriculture and forestry.  These tasks can be dangerous, logistically complex and time consuming.  A network of remote sensors is a possible solution and can increase human safety, productivity and can be cost-effective in their applications.  Remote sensor applications have low power needs but require many hundreds of devices operating in the field for long durations. Current battery technology is unsuitable for powering these devices, as they are unreliable, have limited life, low energy capacity and are not robust to wide temperature swings. Fuel cells are a promising alternative and can overcome limitations with current battery technology. Fuel cells such as the Proton Exchange Membrane are an electrochemical device that takes in reactants such as hydrogen and oxygen to generate electricity, heat and water. Fuel cells are very efficient, can provide low power for long durations (due to their high energy capacity) and are environmentally friendly.  However to date, fuel cells have yet to be practically applied for remote sensing and monitoring.

Objective

The objective of this research is to design, develop and demonstrate fuel cells for sensor networks in extreme environments. The research focuses on developing smart designs and control concepts of miniature fuel cell powered sensor systems for long durations. These fuel cell powered sensor systems will weigh in the order of 10ís of grams and provide power to sensor modules with operational lives extending from many months to years.   Fuel cells are delicate and a key challenge will be to effectively shelter the fuel cells from the extreme environments and maximize mission life. A concept of the fuel cell powered sensor system is show in figure1.

 

 

Figure 1. Concept of Fuel Cell Powered Sensor System


SPONSORS


Israel IDF-Basic Science Office

 
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)

 

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