US Army Funds New fuel Cell Development for Smaller Portable Units

The US Army Research Laboratory (ARL) recently announced plans to fund fuel cell research with Cornell University.  The five-year program has plans to develop a new fuel cell technology, which is small, durable yet safe to generate on-demand electricity to power and charge accessories in the field.

What it is:  Fuel cells operate by generating electricity on demand from electrochemical reactions that take place inside the cell.  Fuel sources, such as hydrogen or methanol are used to fuel the reactions.

Fuel cell systems are already commercially available and deployed in many larger systems including emergency backup and specialty vehicles such as forklifts.  Zero emission vehicles employing fuel cell technology have been in development for years and several automotive manufacturers are deploying into select markets.  Greater adoption of the technology will depend on the cost and fuel distribution and building a hydrogen infrastructure to support systems.

Why it matters:

The military relies on energy and power for most activities and reliable charging, especially during combat is often critical to the success of the mission.  Essential combat accessories include night vision systems, communications, sensors and laptops.  In order to power these devices, heavy battery systems are used and not always available on demand, for instance at the front line of combat. Advances in fuel cell technology would enable quick access to power with a lighter load.   The use of smaller, portable uses of fuel cells has een met with challenges due to

Other military uses in development:

The Naval Research Laboratory has been developing the ‘Ion Tiger’, a fuel cell powered UAV which has broken several records for time in flight.  The use of fuel cells allows for longer flight missions due to the lightweight and compact nature of the technology.  Currently the Ion Tiger can stay in flight for 48 hours compared with only 1 hour from battery power.

The US Army has been working to develop wearable power systems using fuel cell technology in an effort to decrease the weight of wearable equipment by up to 50%.

This article was contributed by Maggie Teliska. Teliska leads the stationary sales initiatives for Northeast Battery & Alternator, the largest independent battery distribution company in the Northeast. Before this role, she served as a consultants well as CTO of Regent Power, LLC, a Smart City host integrator. She sits on the board of the Women’s Energy Network Boston Chapter.  Maggie has a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from the George Washington University and a BS in Chemistry from Boston College. She lives in Tewskbury, MA with her husband.