Proton Energy Ships Regenerative Solar/Fuel Cell

April 24, 2003 by Jeff Shepard

Producing power both day and night from solar energy will soon be put into action at a California naval testing station. Earlier this month, Proton Energy Systems, Inc. shipped its 1 kW UNIGEN® regenerative solar/fuel cell system to the Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake, California. At the site, the UNIGEN® system will be integrated with a hydrogen storage tank, solar panel and electrical load for testing.

Proton was awarded the $375,000 development contract earlier this year through Jacobs Sverdrup Technology, Inc., a subcontractor to the U.S. Navy. Northern Power Systems, Inc. was a key subcontractor to Proton Energy Systems in the area of system integration. Northern Power Systems designed and installed the hydrogen safety and thermal management system along with integrating the equipment within the shelter. Once installed, the system will undergo a six-month testing period.

"This project will demonstrate a truly sustainable energy system. In the near term, it could solve the vexing challenge of providing electrical power to remote locations and ultimately has the potential to reduce our dependence upon imported oil and increase homeland security," said Proton Energy Systems President and CEO Walter "Chip" Schroeder.

"Northern Power Systems has long used renewable technologies to provide power in remote locations," said Jito Coleman, president of Northern Power Systems. "The China Lake project is an important step in the ultimate goal of integrating renewable energy into the hydrogen economy. We are proud to be working with Proton on this unique initiative."

The UNIGEN system demonstrates use of a grid-independent power plant that generates electricity in a closed-loop system from renewable, non-polluting resources. The UNIGEN® integrates several subsystems, including a hydrogen generator, hydrogen storage tanks, a Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell, and a Navy supplied solar photovoltaic (PV) array. The hydrogen generator, a key module in this project, incorporates Proton¹s patent-pending renewable interface, which is capable of producing hydrogen from water using electricity directly generated by the solar array.

During its six-month test program, the system¹s solar panels will supply power during daylight hours, while simultaneously using some of the solar electricity to generate hydrogen for tank storage. During nighttime hours, the system will utilize the tank-stored hydrogen produced from sunlight as an input to the UNIGEN¹s® PEM fuel cell.

According to John Speranza, Proton Energy System's renewable program engineering manager, the goal of the project is to demonstrate grid independent, constant power output using a renewable energy system capable of remote operation. "By combining the UNIGEN® Regenerative Fuel Cell system with the Navy¹s PV array, the project¹s goal is to eliminate batteries or other bridging device for a seamless transition from solar to fuel cell power. The project will also continually recycle water that is a byproduct of the UNIGEN¹s® fuel cell component, using it as a feedstock for the same unit¹s hydrogen generator."