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Advanced Power Technology marches with the troops

A Battelle fuel cell power system powers up work lights as it is demonstrated Dec. 7.  The benefits from this new technology are reduced fuel usage, quiet operation, water production, weight and size reductions, and safe emissions and can be made available to the warfighter reasonably soon.
U.S. Air Force photo by SUE SAPP

A Battelle fuel cell power system powers up work lights as it is demonstrated Dec. 7. The benefits from this new technology are reduced fuel usage, quiet operation, water production, weight and size reductions, and safe emissions and can be made available to the warfighter reasonably soon. U.S. Air Force photo by SUE SAPP

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- The way Battelle's Jeff Melaragno tells it, it won't be long before warfighters at
remote bases will have a cleaner, quieter way to power runway lights and other electrically powered devices.

But he does more than tell us, he shows us. Dec. 14, the Air Force Advanced Power Technology Office here held a demonstration of a hydrogen fuel cell developed by Battelle for providing power at remote locations.

Halogen light units were powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, and by a current generation light cart using diesel fuel. The diesel generator produced toxic emissions and odor, and considerable noise, along with electric power. The hydrogen fuel cell produced electric power with no emissions, no odor and almost no noise at all. This is the latest in a series of demonstrations held by the Air Force APTO in its effort to develop ways to make the Air Force less dependent on fossil fuels, especially from non-U.S. sources.

"The multi-purpose electric power system is a hydrogen fuel cell. It is clean and quiet, and 25 percent more fuel efficient than diesels, which means it runs much longer on the same amount of fuel," said Mr. Melaragno, Battelle's senior market manager for fuel cell technology.

He explained that fuel is converted to hydrogen by a reformer, and the hydrogen runs the motor (fuel cell) that produces electricity.

The fuel used for the demonstration is S-8, the synthetic fuel used as a substitute for JP-8 jet fuel, which also powers ground devices such as airfield lights. It was synthesized using the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) synthetic fuel process named for two German scientists, Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch, who invented the system prior to World War II.

"If we could get enough FT fuel to the battlefield, we could use the fuel cell now. However, we will have to use JP-8 because FT fuel isn't available in quantity yet, while JP-8 is," said Mr. Melaragno.

Since the conversion process within the fuel cell results in some sulfur with JP-8, which would damage the cell, further development is required to eliminate the last of the sulfur and put the fuel cell into military use.

Mr. Melaragno believes that will take about 18 months of further development. S-8 is used for the demonstration because it contains no sulfur.

The fuel was also used to demonstrate the use of synthetics in a B-52 aircraft several months ago, as part of yet another Air Force project. Mr. Melaragno is not only looking at BEAR base applications and light carts, but any portable diesel application.

Battelle is working with the army to customize the fuel cell for use in the Stryker fighting vehicle, as the auxiliary power unit. That application is about two years from being fielded.

Indeed, the APTO is exploring a number of future applications for the technology. Scott Slyfield, who comes to the office as a contractor from Mandaree Energies Corporation, is working toward the future.

"We are looking at additional work for fuel cell technology. We are exploring what can be
brought to the warfighter," said Mr. Slyfield. He coordinates demonstration projects such as this to compare diesel and JP-8 powered devices with fuel cells.

"Demonstrations like this give us a better view of how the technology can be used," he said. "Not only are we comparing apples to apples in what devices are powered, in this case lights, we can show that the fuel cell will supply power 25 percent
longer than the conventionally powered cart."

Power for a longer time with the same volume of fuel means less fuel needs to be brought to a remote location. And that means the warfighter has more ability to bring in other vital supplies.