Title page for ETD etd-10162009-134257

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Miller, Matthew Michael
URN etd-10162009-134257
Title Modeling, Designing, Building, and Testing a Microtubular Fuel Cell Stack Power Supply System for Micro Air Vehicle (MAVs)
Degree Master of Science
Department Mechanical Engineering
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
von Spakovsky, Michael R. Committee Chair
Ellis, Michael W. Committee Member
Nelson, Douglas J. Committee Member
  • Micro Air Vehicle
  • PEM Fuel Cell
  • Microtubular Fuel Cell
Date of Defense 2009-10-02
Availability unrestricted
Research and prototyping of a fuel cell stack system for micro aerial vehicles (MAVs) was conducted by Virginia Tech in collaboration with Luna Innovations, Inc, in an effort to replace the lithium battery technology currently powering these devices. Investigation of planar proton exchange membrane (PEM) and direct methanol (DM) fuel cells has shown that these sources of power are viable alternatives to batteries for electronics, computers, and automobiles. However, recent investigation about the use of microtubular fuel cells (MTFCs) suggests that, due to their geometry and active surface areas, they may be more effective as a power source where size is an issue. This research focuses on hydrogen MTFCs and how their size and construction within a stack affects the power output supplied to a MAV, a small unmanned aircraft used by the military for reconnaissance and other purposes. In order to conduct this research effectively, a prototype of a fuel cell stack was constructed given the best cell characteristics investigated, and the overall power generation system to be implemented within the MAV was modeled using a computer simulation program.

The results from computer modeling indicate that the MTFC stack system and its balance of system components can eliminate the need for any batteries in the MAV while effectively supplying the power necessary for its operation. The results from the model indicate that a hydrogen storage tank, given that it uses sodium borohydride (NaBH4), can fit inside the fuselage volume of the baseline MAV considered. Results from the computer model also indicate that between 30 and 60 MTFCs are needed to power a MAV for a mission time of one hour to ninety minutes, depending on the operating conditions. In addition, the testing conducted on the MTFCs for the stack prototype has shown power densities of 1.0, an improvement of three orders of magnitude compared to the initial MTFCs fabricated for this project. Thanks to the results of MTFC testing paired with computer modeling and prototype fabrication, a MTFC stack system may be possible for implementation within an MAV in the foreseeable future.

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