Researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology are developing
a portable, hydrogen-generating power system to power everything from laptops
to communications gear for soldiers in the battlefield.
The system transforms jet fuel into hydrogen and will relive soldiers from
having to carry heavy loads of batteries. Individual soldiers carry between 20
to 40 pounds of batteries on standard four-day missions. The batteries power
soldiers’ personal portable electronics, such as GPS systems and night-vision
“The military, for very good reasons, can operate all of its hardware —
from tanks to naval ships — off of one single fuel, JP-8, which is similar to
civilian aviation fuel,” says Jonathan Wenzel, assistant research engineer in
chemical and biological engineering at Missouri S&T. “Jet fuel, like
gasoline, is a mixture of hundreds of different chemicals that contain hydrogen
and carbon, called hydrocarbons.”
The system works by reacting jet fuel with water to produce hydrogen. Small
amounts of carbon dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide and ethane are also
released during the process.
When the power unit is in the battlefield, the need for soldiers to carry
heavy, cumbersome batteries could be eliminated, as convoys already carry fuel
for their vehicles. The single reliance on jet fuel provides logistical
benefits, as the military wouldn’t have to stockpile batteries and distribute
them on the battlefield. The quiet, odor-free process also doesn’t produce a
thermal signature with its exhaust, unlike the jet fuel and diesel electric
generators that are currently used in the field.
“Think about how loud and smelly the generators are that many people bought
in the last ice storm,” says Wenzel, who is working under the direction of Dr.
KB Lee, professor of chemical and biological engineering at Missouri
A small scalable unit could be built to produce a small amount of hydrogen
or increased to provide enough energy to power an entire navy ship. In
addition, the system could generate sanitary drinking water with the addition
of a fuel cell.
The project is supported by the U.S. Army and DRS-TSI, which provides
information technology solutions to government clients.