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NEWS | July 6, 2023

NRL Demonstrates Hydrogen Technology Solutions for Marine Corps

By Mary Hamisevicz, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory Corporate Communications

U.S. Naval Research Laboratory researchers partnered with the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWC-AD), Northwest UAV Inc., Lockheed Martin, and the Army’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center (GVSC) to demonstrate hydrogen technology solutions Mar. 22, 2023. 
Hydrogen fuel cells are well suited for low signature applications because they provide energy through an electrochemical reaction, so there are fewer moving parts and a much lower operating temperature relative to combustion engines. The byproduct is water, which supports initiatives to reduce carbon emissions.
“A hydrogen fuel cell takes hydrogen fuel and air from the environment and combines the two. This produces two things: electricity and water,” said Rick Stroman, head of NRL’s Alternative Energy Section. “It is like an internal combustion engine where you are burning fuel. In this case we are not burning the hydrogen, but combining it electrochemically with the oxygen in the air. This process is much more efficient and you acquire electricity directly.”
NRL is developing a Hydrogen Small Unit Power (HSUP) system to support the Marine Corps in expeditionary warfare operations. Marines will be able to use HSUP to charge batteries efficiently, quietly, and continuously, which reduces detectability and improves readiness.
During the Hydrogen Demonstration event, NRL showcased a hydrogen fuel cell developed at the laboratory, commercialized through partner Northwest UAV, and integrated into a Lockheed Martin Stalker unmanned aerial System (UAS) through a NAWC-AD program. The goal is to move hydrogen fuel cell technology out of the lab and into American industry where it is available for applications like the H2 Stalker UAS. Unmanned aircraft built with a high efficiency hydrogen fuel cell can fly substantially longer than a battery electric aircraft. Vehicles like Stalker can extend mission range and endurance, giving Commanders operational flexibility.
“The Stalker is unique as it is a small aircraft with a variety of capabilities,” said Dustin Gamble of Lockheed Martin. “Because it uses the hydrogen fuel cell it can fly for a long period of time without giving off heat.”
To bring the project to fruition, a collaborative relationship was established between NRL, Northwest UAV and the NAWC-AD who work with Lockheed Martin to determine how to transition the fuel cell technology into the Stalker drone.
The Stalker effort leveraged an Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) Manufacturing Science and Technology Program (MSTP) with NRL and Northwest UAV to mature the fuel cell from a laboratory prototype to a production-ready technology.
“Hydrogen offers other advantages”, said Kevin Cronin, NRL Principal Investigator of the Hydrogen Small Unit Power (HSUP) system. “We have identified another application where we can configure the same fuel cell as a low signature generator.  The HSUP has more energy per weight than batteries, and runs quieter, colder, and more efficiently than combustion engines. The system can also be plugged into a vehicle’s power system and run the electronics and payloads, instead of drawing power from the vehicle.”
There is growing interest in the civilian world and industry in hydrogen fuel cell technologies. “I am excited we are doing two things simultaneously,” said Stroman. “NRL is providing technologies to meet the needs of the Marine Corps and the Department of Defense, as we push the envelope in developing technologies that have real environmental benefits.”

The Hydrogen Demonstration event is sponsored by the OSD MSTP and the Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy Office. The Marine Corps established the Expeditionary Energy Office to reduce energy consumption, with the goals of increasing combat effectiveness by reducing the need for liquid fossil fuel by 50 percent by 2025 and using liquid fuel only for mobility systems, which will be more energy efficient than systems are today.

About the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

NRL is a scientific and engineering command dedicated to research that drives innovative advances for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps from the seafloor to space and in the information domain. NRL is located in Washington, D.C. with major field sites in Stennis Space Center, Mississippi; Key West, Florida; Monterey, California, and employs approximately 3,000 civilian scientists, engineers and support personnel.
For more information, contact NRL Corporate Communications at (202) 480-3746 or

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