In order for fuel cells to play a large part in a global sustainable energy infrastructure, fuel

cell-based systems need to be built to meet the demands of a wide range of applications in all aspects of society. To date, the majority of fuel cell research has been focused on developing systems to power applications such as passenger vehicles, commercial buildings, and small handheld devices. These applications typically require power outputs that are either greater than 100 kW or less than 20 W, and a gap remains in developing viable fuel cell systems for applications requiring electric power between 100 W and 100 kW. Some of these applications include unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), residential power generators, equipment pumps, camping and recreational devices, lawn and garden equipment, and auxiliary power units. Key requirements for these applications include a power system that is portable, has a quick startup time, and can be easily refueled. The focus of this dissertation is to identify and address the engineering gaps encountered when developing a viable fuel cell system capable of meeting the requirements for these “medium”-sized power applications. Ultimately, an integrated reformer fuel cell system is proposed; this system utilizes a propane catalytic partial oxidation rector coupled with a HT-PEM fuel cell. Using this structure, the optimal operating conditions for propane catalytic partial oxidation were investigated. Additionally, the performance of a HT-PEM fuel cell under various conditions while operating directly on propane fuel reformate was assessed. After investigation into the weight, power, run time, and durability requirements of military UAVs, a reformer fuel cell system is proposed that produces a net power of 250 with a total mass 2.23 kg, and is capable of a 200-hour lifetime. This proposed design offers significant advantages over current UAV propulsion technologies in that it is both quiet and capable of long flight durations, unlike battery and internal combustion engine technology presently used that suffer from either low specific energy or high noise level. The proposed system also has advantages over other fuel cell systems in that it is fueled with commonly available propane, where other mobile fuel cells require high purity H2 that is difficult to obtain. In addition to assessing the technical feasibility of such a system, the potential environmental benefits relative to incumbent technology are described.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Fuel cells--Research; Fuel cells--Environmental aspects

Publication Date


Document Type


Student Type


Degree Name

Sustainability (Ph.D.)

Department, Program, or Center

Sustainability (GIS)


Christopher L. Lewis

Advisor/Committee Member

Thomas A. Trabold

Advisor/Committee Member

Nenad Nenadic


Physical copy available from RIT's Wallace Library at TK2931 .W35 2016


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