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Clara Venture Labs develops innovative power system for ESA’s Moon missions

Bergen, Norway – May 8 – 2023 – Clara Venture Labs has successfully developed a regenerative fuel cell-based power system to support European Space Agency’s (ESA) lunar missions. The solar PV-charged system uses hydrogen to generate electricity and heat in a closed loop during the Moon’s long, harsh nights.

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By Annette Frotjold Published

Picture shows contributors to the project: Jonas Sømod Ahmed, Øyvind Torvanger, Jon Eide Pettersen, Kristoffer Skjelanger, Fredrik Heimstad, Arild Andersen, Roger Johansen, Øyvind Merl-Olsen, Bjarte G.B. Solheim, Tor Monsen. Missing: Jarle Farnes, Dmitry Bokach, Arild Vik, Amund F. Utne, Stein Erik Fredriksen

As space agencies plan for manned and unmanned missions to the Moon and eventually Mars, establishing a reliable and consistent energy storage system is crucial for safe operations.

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Reliable energy storage is necessary for the lunar nights

"Lunar nights are particularly challenging due to temperatures plunging to around -180 degrees Celsius and lasting up to 14 earth days", explains Dmitry Bokach, Senior Researcher and Project Manager.

According to Dmitry, solar energy from photovoltaic panels will be the primary energy source on the Moon during daytime. Conventional energy storage methods like batteries have energy density limitations, making them less suitable for extended space missions.

“Regenerative fuel cell systems offer a unique advantage by providing dual solutions for heat and electricity, making them the optimal choice for extreme cold temperatures during lunar nights,” adds Dmitry.

Clara Venture Labs’ contribution is part of the ESA project “Alternative Energy Storage Solutions for Lunar Night Survival in Human Exploration Scenarios”. This involved design, construction, and testing of a compact breadboard, incorporating a PEM fuel cell stack delivering 40-200 watts of power along with valuable heat, and a high-pressure PEM water electrolyser. After 800 hours of rigorous testing, the technology reached Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 4+, and the company has already been entrusted with the next project’s next phase, aiming for TRL 5.

The regenerative fuel cell breadboard is designed to meet several ESA requirements, including scalability and the ability to withstand shocks and vibrations during a spacecraft’s launch, transfer and lunar landing.

Michelle Williams, CEO in Clara Venture Labs, praises her team’s excellent performance and achievements throughout this demanding project.

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The team's hard work has generated knowledge with great potential for innovation in space and on Earth

“We look forward to further collaboration with ESA, contributing to the advancement of space exploration and terrestrial applications alike”, concludes Michelle

How it works
Clara Venture Labs’ regenerating fuel cell system (RFCS) technology stores energy as hydrogen and oxygen. During discharge (night) the two gases are sent into a fuel cell where they electrochemically recombine to water, producing electricity and heat. During charging (daytime) the photovoltaic panels provide electric energy to the water electrolyser, which splits the water back into hydrogen and oxygen.

The RFCS breadboard is carefully designed and built as a closed-loop system, with all reactants sealed inside. Only electric power enters and exits the system for cyclic charge and discharge.