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  • RVers Outpace Military In Fuel Cell Use
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 2:33 PM on Oct 14, 2010

    Fuel-cell manufacturer SFC of Germany has rolled out a new product in its line of methanol-air electrochemical cells, a system designed to provide secondary power to military vehicles - for example, keeping sensors and communications gear running while the engine is off, so that the vehicle can be in "silent watch" mode. The system is on show at the NATO Future Soldier exhibition in Prague.

    However, the company has found a bigger market for a similar system in a completely different niche:  high-end RVs, reporting a surge in customer interest after launching the product on the US market. The need is simple: people want to use all the electrical widgets on their RVs but nobody wants to be confined to power-equipped sites or to endure the noise of a generator, and many RV sites ban generators or confine them to a noisy, diesel-fragrant corner.

    The good news is that the commercial market will bring down the cost of the technology for military users and increase its durability. SFC warrants its commercial systems for 4500 hours continuous running time and is working on a switch from a platinum catalyst to relatively cheaper palladium.

    Brand-new at Future Soldier is the Jenny ND Terra power system, already in use by German special forces. It comprises a fuel cell, a 2.5 liter methanol tank, a power management system and battery (the latter to handle peak loads) packed into a protected, watertight case. A unique feature is that it includes two flexible snorkel tubes so that it can be buried in loose ground.

    blog post photo

    SFC has now received two orders for its basic Jenny soldier-portable power system from the German army, and it is in service in Afghanistan with German and Austrian forces. Meanwhile, the system is still undergoing trials with US forces:  in recent tests, Jenny fuel cartridges were filled to different levels and shot with small-caliber rounds, including tracer, to show that the fuel would not ignite, which had been a concern.

    The company is still meeting resistance because the US Army does not want to support a separate supply chain for fuel (JP-8 or diesel can't be used in cool catalytic processes). But in the long run, an SFC representative comments, "a single fuel is a dream - but you're not going to get there."

    Tags: ar99, future-soldier, energy

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