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Overcoming the Technical Barriers that Inhibit use of Fuel Cells for Dismounted Soldier Applications

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Sensors & Electronics Technology

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Battery Charging, Dismounted Soldier, Fuel Cells, Portable


The evolution of warfare over the last two decades has demonstrated the increased reliance on electronics for the dismounted warfighter to be able to successfully complete his mission. Regardless of the actual application, the dismounted soldier must also carry sufficient energy for the sucessful completion of the mission. For the vast majority of these devices the energy required is provided by batteries. The result is that mission objectives, planning and execution is partially driven by the run time of batteries and the associated increase in weight carried and logistically resupply issues. All of this has a negative impact on the goal of allowing the dismounted soldier to complete the mission without energy resupply, or to become “energy independent”. Several energy solutions have been explored to provide this energy independence. Fuel cells were considered a viable option, but past efforts were hindered by SWaP tradeoffs, low reliability and high unit costs. However, recent advances in fuel cell technologies are starting to make this technology once again attractive for use in a tactical environment. Many NATO counties have adapted, or are moving towards the concept of the dismounted soldier as a system powered by a centralized energy source.


This effort will leverage the work of previous SET Technical Groups, specifically SET 173 “Fuel Cells and other Emerging Manportable Power Technologies for the NATO Warfighter” and SET 206 “Energy Generation for Manwearable/Manportable Applications and Remote Sensors”. The overall objective of this panel would be to identify the technical challenges related to the use of fuel cells for dismounted applications and recommend a roadmap for overcoming the identified challenges. Specific goals would be too: • Identify those fuel cell technologies and configurations that are applicable to either manwearable or manportable applications • Determine the technical barriers that exist preventing full adaptation of these technologies • Identify methods in which these barriers can be overcome • Determine which technology is the best fit for a given application • Identify the efforts required to overcome defined technical barriers


The specific topics to be covered are: • Fuel Cells - Identification and proposed technical solutions related to decreasing weight, increasing energy output and increasing reliability. One of the major focuses will be on trying to identify reasons for failures of fuel cells in a battle field environment and development of military specific mitigation concepts. • Hydrogen generation and delivery systems – Identify and propose potential “non-traditional” sources of hydrogen generation such as the use of windshield washer fluids, F-54 diesel /F-34 jet fuel, hydrogenated diesel or jet fuels, liquid organic hydrogen carriers and chemical hydrides. • Safety – Identify and propose solutions to allow the use of fuel cells in closed environments such as aircraft and tactical vehicles. Analyze emission from different fuel cell types including parasitic emissions e.g. of fuel transfer line also allowing for data from aged systems as far as they become available. Evaluate options to contain emissions, and define required ventilations of confined rooms also taking into account oxygen conception so that emissions by soldiers can be kept at a safe level • Hybrid solutions – Explore exploiting the occurrence of variable loads by optimizing energy and power delivery from the system through combining the fuel cell with an electrochemical storage device such as a high power battery, a ultra-capacity or a battery capacity hybrid solution • Battery charging – Explore the methods by which a fuel cell can directly, or in directly, operate as a battery charger in a tactical environment. • Specifications and standards required to leverage resources and enable NATO interchangeability

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