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NAVFAC EXWC Mechanical Engineer Awarded Two Patents; Provides New Grounds For Refueling Navy Cell Platforms

By August 16, 2021 4   min read  (611 words)

August 16, 2021 |

Fuel Cells Works, NAVFAC EXWC Mechanical Engineer Awarded Two Patents; Provides New Grounds For Refueling Navy Cell Platforms

Naval Facilities Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center (NAVFAC EXWC) is proud to announce Benjamin Wilcox, NAVFAC EXWC Mechanical Engineer for the Shore Technical Department, has developed and been awarded two closely related patents—a present and previous issuance—under a Continued Prosecution Application (CPA).

The previous patent, named “In-Water Refueling System for Unmanned Undersea Vehicles with Fuel Cell Propulsions”, concerns a hydrogen and oxygen electrolysis system (the process of using electricity to decompose water into oxygen and hydrogen gas) inside a pressure vessel. The uniqueness of Wilcox’s invention is two-fold. First, the electrolysis system can produce and manage both hydrogen and oxygen gas at elevated pressures; second, the previous patent provides a vital need for refueling the Navy’s underwater fuel cell platforms—a technology that can be further developed as a complete refueling system for fuel cell platforms.

In one version of the previous patent technology, the refueling system can be integrated with a non-flow (a closed system with no fluid flow) hydrogen and oxygen fuel cell in an unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV). The result is a UUV with regenerative fuel cell propulsion capabilities—in layman’s terms, the refueling system is directly part of the UUV refueling operation by an electrical connection outside the UUV.

By adopting this technology, the process of refueling UUV’s would dramatically simplify itself, and ultimately provide reasoning for the Department of Defense to invest in fuel cell UUV’s for both extended range and duration.

As of today, mechanical engineers like Wilcox are looking to develop a long-term fuel cell refueling system owned by the Navy. Ideally, this system would be interoperable for refueling fuel cell platforms, and could establish a standard technology that developers of fuel cell platforms would include as a contract requirement in their platform delivery process. Not only would the refueling process be more streamlined, but the procurement costs and sustainment costs would be lower, saving the taxpayer’s dollars while freeing up development funding for both the fuel cell platform and the powered system itself.

The present patent, named “Brine Electrolysis System for Producing Pressurized Chlorine and Hydrogen Gases”, concerns a related chlorine and oxygen electrolysis system (the process of using electricity to decompose brine or salt water into chlorine and hydrogen gas) inside a pressure vessel.

Wilcox’s second invention may be developed further to provide feedstock to a polyvinyl chloride three-dimensional printer technology. There is wide interest in three-dimensional printing of spare parts and custom structures by expeditionary forces. If this technology could be realized, it has the potential to drastically simplify the logistics of providing spare parts in the field.

Each of Wilcox’s inventions produce gases at elevated pressures by placing the electrolysis system inside a pressure vessel, and in this arrangement the pressure of the gas is regulated by a water pump that replaces the need for gas compression.

“My interest in electrolysis systems dates to when I was a graduate student at the University of California Davis in 2004. During a visit to the engineering library I read in the preface to a bound volume of the Journal of Hydrogen that scientists had long imagined producing and storing hydrogen on the seafloor at the depth pressure,” said Wilcox. “10 years later this led to a meeting with colleagues at the NAVFAC EXWC Deep Ocean Simulation Facility (DOSF). Studying the use of the DOSF 72-inch pressure vessel to design experiments for hydrogen on the seafloor made me remember back to when I was a student, and reminded me how these inventions originally came about, and why I have always been interested in engineering.”

Story by Sarah MacMillan 

Naval Facilities Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center

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