External gas pressure permits higher pressure and more versatile electrolyzer.
A high-strength, low-weight pressure vessel dome was designed specifically to house a high-pressure [2,000 psi (≈13.8 MPa)] electrolyzer. In operation, the dome is filled with an inert gas pressurized to roughly 100 psi (≈690 kPa) above the high, balanced pressure product oxygen and hydrogen gas streams. The inert gas acts to reduce the clamping load on electrolyzer stack tie bolts since the dome pressure acting axially inward helps offset the outward axial forces from the stack gas pressure. Likewise, radial and circumferential stresses on electrolyzer frames are minimized. Because the dome is operated at a higher pressure than the electrolyzer product gas, any external electrolyzer leak prevents oxygen or hydrogen from leaking into the dome. Instead the affected stack gas stream pressure rises detectably, thereby enabling a system shutdown. All electrical and fluid connections to the stack are made inside the pressure dome and require special plumbing and electrical dome interfaces for this to be accomplished. Further benefits of the dome are that it can act as a containment shield in the unlikely event of a catastrophic failure.
Studies indicate that, for a given active area (and hence, cell ID), frame outside diameter must become ever larger to support stresses at higher operating pressures. This can lead to a large footprint and increased costs associated with thicker and/or larger diameter endplates, tierods, and the frames themselves. One solution is to employ rings that fit snugly around the frame. This complicates stack assembly and is sometimes difficult to achieve in practice, as its success is strongly dependent on frame and ring tolerances, gas pressure, and operating temperature. A pressure dome permits an otherwise low-pressure stack to operate at higher pressures without growing the electrolyzer hardware.
The pressure dome consists of two machined segments. An O-ring is placed in an O-ring groove in the flange of the bottom segment and is trapped by the flange on the top dome segment when these components are bolted together with high-strength bolts. The pressure dome has several unique features. It is made (to ASME Pressure Vessel guidelines) in a high-strength aluminum alloy with the strength of stainless steel and the weight benefits of aluminum. The flange of the upper dome portion contains specially machined flats for mounting the dome, and other flats dedicated to the special feedthroughs for electrical connections. A pressure dome can be increased in length to house larger stacks (more cells) of the same diameter with the simple addition of a cylindrical segment.
To aid in dome assembly, two stainless steel rings are employed. One is used beneath the heads of the high-strength bolts in lieu of individual hardened washers, and another is used instead of individual nuts. Like electrolyzers could be operated at low or high pressures simply by operating the electrolyzer outside or inside a pressurized dome.
This work was done by Timothy Norman and Edwin Schmitt of Giner Electrochemical Systems, LLC for Glenn Research Center.
Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to NASA Glenn Research Center, Innovative Partnerships Office, Attn: Steven Fedor, Mail Stop 4–8, 21000 Brookpark Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44135. LEW-18772-1