The design of long-life, high-efficiency PEM fuel cell power supplies for low power sensor networks

Jekanthan Thangavelautham, Daniel Dewitt Strawser, Steven Dubowsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Field sensor networks have important applications in environmental monitoring, wildlife preservation, in disaster monitoring and in border security. The reduced cost of electronics, sensors and actuators make it possible to deploy hundreds if not thousands of these sensor modules. However, power technology has not kept pace. Current power supply technologies such as batteries limit many applications due to their low specific energy. Photovoltaics typically requires large bulky panels and is dependent on varying solar insolation and therefore requires backup power sources. Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) fuel cells are a promising alternative, because they are clean, quiet and operate at high efficiencies. However, challenges remain in achieving long lives due to factors such as degradation and hydrogen storage. In this work, we devise a framework for designing fuel cells power supplies for field sensor networks. This design framework utilize lithium hydride hydrogen storage technology that offers high energy density of up to 5000 Wh/kg. Using this design framework, we identify operating conditions to maximize the life of the power supply, meet the required power output and minimize fuel consumption. We devise a series of controllers to achieve this capability and demonstrate it using a bench-top experiment that operated for 5000 h. The laboratory experiments point towards a pathway to demonstrate these fuel cell power supplies in the field. Our studies show that the proposed PEM fuel cell hybrid system fueled using lithium hydride offers at least a 3 fold reduction in mass compared to state-of-the-art batteries and 3-5 fold reduction in mass compared to current fuel cell technologies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20277-20296
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Journal of Hydrogen Energy
Issue number31
StatePublished - Aug 3 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Degradation
  • Hydrogen storage
  • PEM
  • Power supply
  • Sensor networks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Fuel Technology
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology


Dive into the research topics of 'The design of long-life, high-efficiency PEM fuel cell power supplies for low power sensor networks'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this