Saturday, February 7, 2009

Fuel Cells Light Up Gear While Lightening Soldiers' Loads

Back in October I noted that fuel cells thumped the competition at the Wearable Power competition held at  Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, CA. Though it was not the winner, California-based UltraCell Corp. competed in and successfully completed the DOD’s $1 million Wearable Power Prize, where they were one of only five companies to finish the Prize. In fact, the UltraCell team chose to compete with an already proven design and didn't do custom mods to reduce weight. That decision meant they came in heavier than the winner, but it also meant theirs was the closest to a field-able product.

Heavy batteries are currently being used in Iraq and Afghanistan to power everything from sensors to comm and computer gear and DOD knows it needs a light-weight alternative. Many soldiers hump 20-30 pounds worth of batteries alone. This is unacceptable. According to UltraCell, this technology weighs less than 3 pounds and offers a 70% weight savings for an average 72-hour mission in the field. DARPA, Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development, and Engineering Center (CERDEC) and the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) are all playing a role. Sometimes the best things come in small packages.

Photo: An XX25 fuel cell powering an iRobot robot courtesy of Ultracell

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