Quietly, proton-exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyzers have found their way into many high-profile vehicles over the past three decades. A PEM-based water electrolyzer works in much the same way as the archetypal junior high school chemistry experiment except that it uses a solid acid or membrane rather than a liquid solution. Most of the design elements used to produce the water electrolysis cell stack were originally developed during the 1980s for submarine-based life support systems. An advanced cell design was developed by Hamilton Sundstrand in the 1990s to permit high-pressure gas generation without the need for a pressure vessel or complex pressure control system. The result of this advanced high differential pressure cell design is a greatly simplified fluid system, with only the oxygen fluid circuit maintained at elevated pressure. Energy storage solutions using water electrolysis and fuel cell systems are being examined for applications ranging from backup power systems and lighter-than-air vehicles to extraterrestrial bases on the moon and Mars.
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