048 – “Improved Energy Source for NDI Equipment”

Author: Paul Matter
Company: pH Matter, LLC
Phone: (614) 657-4683
Email: info@phmatter.com

Non-Destructive Inspection (NDI) equipment provides important tools for the Air Force to characterize flaws, cracks, and/or defects in aircraft, thus monitoring potential safety issues. This equipment is typically hand-held, and used by maintenance crew in flight lines and hangars to inspect aircraft. Most NDI equipment is powered by a battery (alkaline, NiCad, NiMH, or Li-ion) that typically comprises a large percentage of the size and weight of the equipment.

The Air Force is interested in finding alternative forms of energy for NDI equipment, due to issues with existing battery technologies that include logistical challenges, battery reliability/degradation, limited portability/grid dependence, and safety. pH Matter and its partner, Lockheed Martin, have designed and built a prototype 25-Watt ethanol-powered fuel cell power system for NDI equipment, and demonstrated integration of the prototype with commercial NDI equipment and in explosive atmosphere testing (TRL 6).

The technology has a number of benefits compared to batteries, including:
• High energy density. The ethanol fuel energy density is about 500 W hr/L, about 2 times higher than a lithium ion battery. This translates to smaller size and weight for an equivalent amount of energy to run a device.
• Instant “recharging”. Instead of connecting the battery to a power source and recharging for several hours, the cells are instantly refueled. This is a benefit to productivity for the end user.
• Grid independence. Without the need for electrical outlets, NDI equipment can be used for extended periods in remote locations by bringing sufficient fuel with the equipment; and not much fuel would be required considering the high energy density.
• Logistics / fuel availability. The ethanol fuel can be sourced worldwide.
• Safety The cell design (with the non-precious metal air cathode) does not create an ignition source – a major concern for the flight line environment. The prototype has been demonstrated in explosive atmosphere testing.

In this presentation, we will review the technology and prototype test data, as well as projected size, weight, and features of a production design. Future development of the fuel cell technology will further reduce the system size, increase the cell longevity, and optimize the design for production. Future products for the fuel cell technology could include power for other portable electronics, remote sensors, and small-unmanned vehicles.