Terrestrial fuel cell systems operate by reacting oxygen from the surrounding atmosphere then using air to remove wastewater. For space or other applications where atmospheric oxygen is unavailable, an alternative technology would be useful. The Non-Flow-Through Fuel Cell Power System, developed by NASA Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, and Infinity Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Inc., Windsor, Conn., is a light-weight, gravity-independent, hydrogen-oxygen non-flow-through (NFT) fuel cell power system that does not require atmospheric oxygen, a centrifugal separator, or a regenerative blower to remove excess water.
The NFT fuel cell technology uses pure oxygen as a reactant, generating electrical power in both air-independent and gravity-independent environments with a minimum number of ancillary components. The system is comprised of an NFT proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell stack and passive NFT balance-of-plant (BoP) technology. The PEM stack converts hydrogen and oxygen to electrical power, water, and waste heat. Water is passively removed by wicking it from the electrode surface through a hydrophilic membrane. The porosity of the membrane allows water in and holds it away from the oxygen cavity.
The design eliminates moving parts, reducing system size, and improving reliability and power use.