Nano World: Power for soldiers, sat phones

November 8, 2005

Nanotechnology-based power sources are expected to emerge in the next two years that could dramatically reduce the weight that soldiers carry and boost how long satellite phones can last, experts told UPI's Nano World.

Fuel cells generate electricity by reacting fuel with oxygen. NanoDynamics in Buffalo, N.Y., is developing fuel cells that employ nanotechnology to help supply power for longer times at less weight and size than batteries or conventional fuel cells. One 50-watt solid oxide fuel-cell prototype, roughly the size of a loaf of bread, is composed of roughly 20 percent nanomaterials and can generate some 3,000 watt-hours of electricity from just 5 pounds of propane. A conventional solid oxide fuel cell given that little propane would generate only one-half to one-third as many watt-hours.

The prototype, "originally designed for a combat soldier, could replace about 35 pounds of batteries," said Keith Blakely, chief executive officer at NanoDynamics. He and others discussed their devices at the NanoCommerce & SEMI NanoForum conference in Chicago last week.

NanoDynamics essentially takes conventional fuel-cell components such as their membranes, electrodes and catalysts and miniaturizes them, increasing fuel-cell power density. Unlike conventional fuel cells, which use hydrogen gas, their prototypes use propane gas, "the kind you find at camping stores," Blakely said.

NanoDynamics has programs with the U.S. Army to develop a fuel cell until the end of 2006. "It may not be that a 50-watt system makes sense for a soldier, but maybe a 200- or 250-watt system to recharge batteries for a platoon," Blakely said.

NanoDynamics is also developing a second-generation nanotechnology-based fuel cell with 60 percent nanomaterials, for 50-watt systems only three-quarters of an inch long, and a third-generation device made of 80 percent nanomaterials. "We are based on operating at about 800 degrees C, so it's not a pocket device," Blakely cautioned. "But for a soldier on a three-day mission dealing with the weight of batteries or a wheelchair on a back of a van, it could replace a lot of weight."

Burnaby, Canada-based Tekion is developing nanotechnology-based fuel cells for phones and computers. Tekion's fuel cells do not use hydrogen either, but formic acid instead, the same kind bees and ants use in their venom. "Formic acid isn't flammable," said Tekion President and Chief Executive Officer Neil Huff, while being considerably reactive at the same time for relatively high power generation, "which is key to making devices smaller." They currently employ nanoscale catalysts and membranes and hope to miniaturize the rest of their components as well.

Initially, Tekion is targeting satellite phones and hopes to have its first product out in 2007. "Satellite phones are larger devices, so they give you more space to work with," Huff said. Moreover, "satellite phones are typically used off-the-grid, so our batteries could help them operate for extended periods of time."

Copyright 2005 by United Press International

Explore further: Bucking trend, Hyundai bets on hydrogen fuel cell for new car

Related Stories

Battery innovations could spread renewable energy

October 23, 2017

In Edmond Hamilton's 1940 novella Revolt On The Tenth World, the science fiction author describes "solid power … the most super-valuable substance in the Solar System." Solid power is "compressed energy 'frozen' by temporary ...

Recommended for you

Cells lacking nuclei struggle to move in 3-D environments

January 20, 2018

University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers have revealed new details of how the physical properties of the nucleus influence how cells can move around different environments - such as ...

Information engine operates with nearly perfect efficiency

January 19, 2018

Physicists have experimentally demonstrated an information engine—a device that converts information into work—with an efficiency that exceeds the conventional second law of thermodynamics. Instead, the engine's efficiency ...

Team takes a deep look at memristors

January 19, 2018

In the race to build a computer that mimics the massive computational power of the human brain, researchers are increasingly turning to memristors, which can vary their electrical resistance based on the memory of past activity. ...

Fast computer control for molecular machines

January 19, 2018

Scientists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have developed a novel electric propulsion technology for nanorobots. It allows molecular machines to move a hundred thousand times faster than with the biochemical processes ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.