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Fuel Cells For (Military) Portable Computing 141

SEWilco writes: "A 2-3 pound fuel cell is being developed to power wearable military systems for a week." 2 to 3 pounds may sound like a lot, but it gets more reasonable when you consider that it means not carrying a conventional battery or an AC adapter around. Of course, you may not be able to take your battery onto an airplane, though ...
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Fuel Cells For (Military) Portable Computing

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Hello American, Slashdot and the Internet in general is accessible by (yikes) non-Americans. When you write "our nation" it's just showing how naval-gazing you are.
  • it seems to me that if someone can get a clear enough shot to shoot you with one of these, it would be just as easy to shoot you in the chest or ...well.. anywhere they wanted
  • Last I checked, fuel cells produced quite a bit of heat. (near boiling point of water as I recall ... ?) I wonder how they are going to manage that in this type of an application.

  • I read an article about a similar product that toshiba had developed some 2 years ago.
    It was a standard battery wich contained an engine like the one in this article and methanol fuel.
    You where supposed to get 10 times the normal battery time out of it and back then that would peobably have meant 10-20 hours.
    The battery was a little larger than todays are but it's basicly the same thing.

    Might not be a new thing but it's a new adaptation at least.

    // yendor
    It could be coffe.... or it could just be some warm brown liquid containing lots of caffeen.
  • So any soldiers carrying a gas canister the size of the Hindenburg might be in a little trouble...

    ...from Chinese fighter planes.

  • Yep, you'd go blind, and insane, fairly quickly. Ethanol's not exactly good for you, but meths is pretty toxic.
  • but it's insignificant compared to the amount of weight that a soldier normally carries
  • Yeah, a small hydrogen pack will be much more dangerous than hand grenades and plastic explosives the soldiers are carrying around.

  • Why is everybody so concerned about the volatility of hydrogen on slashdot? It's not like gasoline isn't much more horrible, and most slashdot readers probably drive around in machines containing over a hundred pounds of highly volatile liquid fuel that will burn or explode violently at the slightest spark. A lot of slashdotters probably use stoves which run on a gas which has blown up entire houses just because there was a leak and then a spark. Hydrogen is very weak by comparison.

    Remember, two thirds of the people on the Hindenburgh survived!
  • If so, even more evidence that hydrogen is not dangerous.
  • The article mentions that the finished product would weigh around two pounds. How much methanol is two pounds, what volume? And that's assuming the rest of the design has zero mass. Besides that, I thought the picture that they showed at the top of the article looked significantly small enough to hidesomewhere under some armor or something. Basically, my point is that it's going to be a moot point that they carry something flammable in this design.


  • That reminds me of when I was in Bosnia. Some of the Army pukes were carrying M16A2/M203 combo rifles, they were assigned about 20-30 grenades for the M203. I guess there isn't much you can do with 20 grenades but these guys either had them all strapped to a vest or on bandoliers. There's nothing funnier than a couple of guys who look like either Mexican banditos or walking bombs. I vowed that if the shooting started (thank God it didn't, whew!) I would stay as far away from these jokers as I could, I didn't want to be near them when they turned into fireworks show.

    Well I don't actually know if grenades will go off if they are shot but I didn't want to find out the hard way.

  • Another advantage is that hydrogen in its liquified form can be distributed with little modification to todays gas distribution infastructure.

    Excuse me? Um, liquid hydrogen has to be either under extreme pressure or extremely cold. Neither of which can be done with just a little modification to today's gas distribution infrastructure. Now, if you use something like this fuel processor to convert a more easily distributed fuel like methanol or diesel fuel into hydrogen in the car itself, then the methanol or diesel can easily be distributed with little modification to today's gas distribution infrastructure.

  • JP-4 (jet fuel) is really similar to kerosene. Have fun getting that stuff to explode. Yeah, you might set it on fire and have some flaming trails running down your body but that can be dealt with.

    Of course, this is just quibbling. The point is that carrying liquid fuel is hazardous in a combat area

    Just being in a combat area is hazardous. The most hazard from any type of carried equipment is the shrapnal it makes when it gets between you and a bullet. I saw some weird shit as a medic in Desert Storm, dealing with all the P.O.W's. A bullet wound's easy to figure out. It's the multiple entry and exit wounds from shattered coins, buckles, etc the go through a person after being shot that piss ya' off.

    37th AEG (air evac group).

  • Desert Storm proved that wars are best fought and won from the air, using precision weapons the minimize damage to surrounding areas. There is no place for the foot soldier anymore, Vietnam proved that.

    Desert Storm was a stacked deck in our favour. We had several airbases already set up in Saudi as well as a greatradar net over the area. We were also up against a small "professional" army as well as hundreds of thousands of conscript troops with poor equipment, weapons, training and leadership.

    As a medic over there, I mostly treated P.O.W.'s (thousands streaming through our area alone). These people were, for the most part, peasant farmers and such, and a lot of them had WWII era weapons (bolt action rifles, only a few rounds per soldier, etc.). The area we moved through (northward into Kuwait) had these poor shmoes in trenches with barb wire in front of them and behind them. The Republican guard had marched them to the front and then made it impossible for them to retreat. No wonder they were surrendering to news crews and everyone else.

    As far as the bombing goes, there's no way to secure an area with an airplane. At best, you can knock out equipment make people on the ground really want to be somewhere else.

    One other thing. Despite all the jokes about military intelligence being an oxymoron and such, our military does a hell of a good job and they are not eager to lose troops. If they still see a need for thousands of ground forces in the service, then I have a feeling that they know what they are talking about. Otherwise, we'd have scrapped the ground forces for all air power, right?

    Vietnam is not a good example either. If anything, it shows that air power was not as effective as hoped and that the ground troops had to go in to get things done. The failure of Vietnam is due to the politicians running the war. When given a free reign, the U.S. military can get the job done.

    37 AEG-Air Force

  • This is just the fuel cell, intended to power wearable electronics. As the article mentions, carrying 2 pounds is better than the equivalent 20 pounds of batteries for a week's power. [Now we watch twelve people mention the solar-generating clothing article from several hours ago]
  • I think that there's a stron g feeling that something like that would be possible. You should note that there's propoganda and contact information for people who might be interested in commercial (non-military) uses for the technology.

    I know that I, for one, would be very interested in being able to power my laptop for a couple of days on a small generator, and being able to carry a week's worth of fuel in a small canteen. For people worried about being allowed to carry such a generator on commercial flights: rules currently allow for the carrying of small ammounts of fuel for personal use (e.g. lighters) This should cover a day's power for a laptop. the extra fuel capacity, however, would proabably not be allowed -- you'e probably be forced to empty your spare bladder and get refills at your destination.

    • I note that the biggest explosion problems for fuel containers tend to be empty or near-empty containers.That's because the airspace in an (almost) empty container is more likely to contain the oxygen/fuel mix that's needed for an explosion.If extra-fuel bladders became commonplace, airlines would probably have to come up with rules for purging the fumes from an empty blader.(probably with nitrogen, or CO).

  • Most laptops weigh about twice this much! The exception are the ultralight notebooks, that are generally little more than puffed up PDAs. (which is really about all most of us really need, but that's another issue..)

    DARPA [] has been funding a lot of research over the last few years with the hope of finding a viable power source for their urban soldier armored suits (among other projects)... I'd be surprised if this didn't spin out of some of that.

  • The standard issue combat equipment for a Ranger, SEAL, Para-Rescue, or any other Special Forces soldier weighs anywhere from 80 and 120 pounds. This includes everything from your BDU (battle dress uniform) to weapons, food, maps, radios, and emergency gear (med kits, nuclear/biological/chemical warfare equipment, etc.).

    Recently, the US Military has been outfitting Special Forces of all branches with GPS systems, laptops, and small, wearable (and usually Linux-running), computers for enhanced communication with their superiors.

    A 2-3lb processor/fuel cell for all this equipment is insignificant in the big picture. Until combat electronics can be shrunk down to palm-pilot size, the GI's will always have to carry massive loads of equipment, plus all the new-and-improved computer systems. But then again, that's what they're trained to do.


  • "the 'Chair Farce' gets all the cool toys. (F-22, F-117A, et cetera.)"

    Let's not forget the Tier II Predator [] , one of the most sophisticated pieces of technology in the USAF []. Sitting in the air-conditioned offices of the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron [] at Nellis Air Force Base [], flying a recon mission via satellite linkup half-way around the word. I guess it's a living.

    Nothing against the jarheads-- I mean the USMC []. You guys are great, and I'll stand behind you 100% in a fight.


  • Fuzed so that they don't go off on bandoliers when shot or when they are bumped hard. The fuze has to be set by them leaving the casing.

    In the unlikely event that a bullet hits the primer of the round, the grenade has to travel a certain distance, I'm not sure how far, but at least 10m, before it goes off.

    It actually still wouldn't go off. The "fuze" is and inertial screw. If it doesn?t go down a rifled barrel it won't arm.

    In fact if you shoot someone point blank it won't go off, because the fuze will not have unscrewed yet.


  • Yes, you do.

    But it has to be line of sight.

    Optimal FoF methodology is "shoot/don't shoot" a little green or red light in your sight picture.

    We lost more people in Desert Storm to friendly fire (remeber, Murphy says "freindly fire . . . ain't.") than hostile fire.

    So, in that confilict we would have gained more by FoF than by any other possible technologies.


  • As a USAF pilot I see a lot of safety reports about JP4 and JP8, and it's amazing how unpredictable it can be. One aircraft lands safely with fuel pouring out of a broken fuel line, another lands flaming like a blowtorch. One guy gets away tossing a lit match into a bucket of JP8, another blows up himself and a hangar full of planes with a small static discharge spark during refuelling operations because he didn't ground himself properly and wasn't wearing approved clothing.

    You're right of course, just being in combat is hazardous but we can at least try to minimize the risk level by minimizing as many self-induced threats as we can.

  • I'm certain that a bullet smacking the fuel cell will cause somewhat more concern than a bullet "merely" whizzing past or even striking a soldier's body armor. Body armor isn't proof against a liter or so of burning fuel. I'd expect the fuel cell to have some sort of containment system and it's own armor, but that's still a bunch of flammable goodness in your gear.

    I'm sure the risk can be minimized to an acceptable level, but it will still remain a hazard. Considering that some soldiers were killed during Desert Storm by inadvertently injecting their own chem warfare antidote doses into their skulls when using their packs as pillows, these fuel cells had better be made extremely foolproof.
  • The amount of energy transferred from a modern rifle round is likely to be enough to ignite even methanol. Steel core bullets are commonly used and they can strike sparks (in addition to the impact energy they transfer) when they hit various materials.

    The article also suggests that other fuels can be used including jet fuel, and this seems more likely as the soldiers could refill their fuel cells from the same source that refills tanks and other vehicles. It wouldn't be very efficient to require a brand new supply chain just for these fuel cells. Jet fuel also doesn't explode very easily (a common demonstration involves tossing a lit match into a bucket of jet fuel - it doesn't ignite), but tag a bottle full of the stuff with a high speed bullet and it will vaporize and ignite with a huge fireball. Methanol will do the same, and the trace amount of hydrogen present in the device may simply act as a trigger to ignite the rest of the stored fuel.

    Of course, this is just quibbling. The point is that carrying liquid fuel is hazardous in a combat area.

  • That is exactly why you'd want a 3 pound generator instead of the 20 pound battery pack I had to lug around when I was in the infantry. And that damn battery pack didn't last us more than a couple of days!
  • If I was in an infantry platoon during war, exploding power cells would be the least of my worries. Ever heard of machine gun fire, mines, and cluster bombs?
  • by Arker ( 91948 )

    They'll most likely come from [] - who already supply the military laptops. I had one of these to play with a few years ago, a 386, but for the time it was decent performancewise, and you could drive a truck over it, pick it up, open it, and go right back to work.

    "That old saw about the early bird just goes to show that the worm should have stayed in bed."
  • I hate to say this, but even the best body armor isn't likely to offer much protection from a true sniper rifle.
  • neither would you explode and kill everyone if your 2 pound fuel cell got hit, "fuckface". Most of that two pounds is the, hydrogen burns fast and not very hot. Its not napalm. It might give you the equivalent of a sunburn. 9th graders play with burning hydrogen in chemistry class.

    think before you speak.

  • You don't WANT a FoF transmitter on soldiers...that's a death wish. Would you want the enemy triangulating on your signal and knowing exactly how may of you are out there, where you are, and what direction and speed you're moving?

    I didn't think so.

  • And how may I ask do they propose to connect my rifle, my laser targeting devices, my night vision goggles, and all the other equipment to that big battery? Wires? AA batteries don't weigh that much; definitely not enough to justify adding a 2-3 lb power generator to the 80 lb of equipment that I already have to carry around. Seriously, those designers need to be taken out to the field on a short infantry mission to ensure sanity.
  • Methonal = CH3OH

    "huhuhuhh, go away. we're like closed or something"
  • A site called TimepassTown [] reportedly runs off a stack of fuel cells powered by methanol by products. Though the site doesn't have much info about fuel cells, the speed of the site is awesome.
  • Nuclear reactions, emission-less fuel systems - they're both the same... Genius A figures the science/technology behind one potentially helpful technology, and Genius B finds out how to use that technology to further the cause of war. If G.B. can.

  • What do you think?
  • Yeah, a job in the "Chair Farce" entails sitting in an air-conditioned office all day. These offices are outfitted with plenty of large desks to hide under whenever Marines show up. (It has been scientifically proven that one US Marine can kick the asses of about 42 airmen single-handedly, and will, given the chance.) It's a pity that the Marines have better pilots, because the Chair Farce gets all the cool toys. (F-22, F-117A, et cetera.)


  • Even if they shrink or lighten currently existing equipment, they'll just have the soldiers carry more shit with them. Hell, 100 years from now soldiers'll still carry 120 poinds of stuff, but 20 pounds of that will be a small fusion-powered factory that uses nano-bots to create ammunition from the surrounding soil.
    well, maybe not, but they'll always be able to find more shit for the soldier to carry.
  • I read somewhere that mosquitos are attracted to carbon dioxide. The enemy would just have to listen for the sound of excessive bug-swatting, and open fire. (Either that, or use the mosquitos themselves to deliver a deadly payload.)

  • obligatory body text
  • As a follow-up to my own post (ok, roast me if you will :) I just found this in my bookmarks: or.htm [] seems a much more informative page about Land Warrior.
  • There's a few ways around this, using more modern technology, such as frequency hopping transmitters (if the frequencies are apart enough, the enemy RX won't be able to grab them all). Also, data burstable transmitters are generally the norm these days, as they are less of a security threat. Also, other mediums could be used, such as light/infra-red/ultra-violet line of site transmitters. This stuff's in the development stage, but I work with it directly, and I must say, it's pretty cool...
  • Yes. I work for the government, for a long time now. It's not impossible. It is difficult, depending on the system used. But the LOS systems are much more secure, and a ton more fun to play with...

  • Gasoline won't explode "at the slightest spark." Only in the movies.

    However, gasoline vapor in air will. In Real Life, even. That's how internal combustion engines work.

  • 2-3 doesn't sound so bad right?

    But imagine if everyone making military equipment thought that?

    2 dozen items 3 pounds each is 72 pounds of extra weight for our soldiers to carry, and that is a lot.

    Of course, having a battery that weights 2-3 pounds is a lot better than 30...

  • Yes, this paint was (and may still be), quite popular in a lot of applications. Hence, if you read any old accounts of World War I or II Naval warfare, you will here reference to the paint burning on bulkheads.
  • First, read the article before you post. The generoter is only about 3 inches at the largest part.

    Second this is methanol, which is basically an alcohol, it burns yes, but it isn't going to explode in the massive fireball your are talking about.

    Third the generator is placed inside the pack, chances of hitting, are pretty slim.

    You can't see it to target it

    If spray enough lead around to hit it, then you are going to have taken the soldier down anyways, and the little poof, or fire at worst that results would be a minor thing compared to the fact that he is already KIA.

  • According to the article, the fuel will be methanol, which is much less volatile and flammable than gasoline or diesel. For more info on methanol check here. [] Methanol vapor must be four times more concentrated in air than gasoline vapor for ignition to occur. So while there would be a greater risk than using a conventional battery, danger to the soldier is not a huge issue.

    Also take into consideration the fact that they are using microchannels up to 500 microns wide, so the amount of hydrogen gas present at any given time will most likely be miniscule.

  • I bet the first folks who use this are the Special Forces. I talked to one about a project we're working on for them, and they have to transport a surprising amount of electricity-consuming stuff along with the batteries to power it all. Anything that can be done to reduce the weight they have to schlepp around will be most appreciated.
  • The battery in my laptop weighs 3.6lb. I aint bitching.

    Hell, my school bag weighs like 35 lb, and I carry it without complaint, I don't think GI Joe (or jane) is going to mind another 3 lb. Now, the "laptop" is probably going to be big, rugged as hell and probably have some serious horsepower.

    And wow. a week. Thats damn cool.

    I want one of these damn things. Another reason to join the military? (you know, like on the commercials, "I learned alot . . . And got a free laptop", hey I didn't find it funny either.)

    I have a shotgun, a shovel and 30 acres behind the barn.

  • right through the right eye. Snipers cool.

    I have a shotgun, a shovel and 30 acres behind the barn.

  • Is there any way to hinder the "science of war?"

    You could bomb Sandia, Livermore, and JPL. That might hinder them a bit.

    To seriously answer your question, though: No.
  • For examples of large-scale fuel processing for automobiles, see Proton Energy Systems [].

    On their site they have pictures of what a fuel cell vehicle gas station upgrade [] will look like -- very cool!

  • Conventional wisdom has it that you can't bring a sealed lead-acid battery on board a commercial airplane. This isn't entirely true. As long as you can prove your battery is safe, they'll allow you to bring it onboard. A lot of manufacturers have downloadable certificates on their websites nowadays that state their batteries are safe for air travel. I've brought the lead-acid batteries for my Tascam DA-P1 and Sony M1 DAT machines on board several flights, including one to Australia in 1999. I wasn't even asked about them that time.

    YMMV, but as long as you've got the documentation, you shouldn't have a problem.

    - A.P.

    Forget Napster. Why not really break the law?

  • Every unit must have refills that are weightless, can be picked up immediately and that can power-up a with a total minimum of effort. So much as inserting a clip into a handgun is more than enough time for your enemy to select a weapon, fire it at you, and watch as parts of your body fly off in different directions.

    I suggest that these fuel cells should be used to improve heads-up displays. If you see a fuel cell and pick it up, you can gain more information about enemies when you're looking at them, such as how much ammo they have in their current weapon, or how injured they are. It would be best if, when you picked up the cell, it made some sort of "power-up" sound to tell you that you have in fact picked it up and deployed it.

    But if the military is really serious, it would be far more advantageous to begin work on cheap, easily-found rocket launchers. I realize that the hand-held, shoulder-launched nuclear weapon is against the Geneva Convention. But from experience I can tell you that a rocket launcher is far more important to have than any dumb fuel cell. With that kind of weapon you do have to watch out for walls, which is important to remember, because most war in the future is going to happen indoors.

  • The man-portable generator would power laser-range finders and heads-up displays used by soldiers in the future

    says the legend on a picture of a soldier with rifle.

    The lead sentence says

    When 21st century soldiers suit up for the battlefield

    More quotes:

    The increased power density would allow soldiers to either reduce their load or greatly extend their missions

    By then, we expect infantry soldiers to use a variety of electronic gear

    ...will allow the soldier to be aware of their location, as well as that of fellow soldiers

    Did you read the article?

  • um..that's one tenth

    look at it as a mathematician, not an english major

  • This might come as a shock.. but Hydrogen is not 'highly explosive'. It will burn, yes, but only with the appropriate supply of oxygen. It's not like tnt, or other explosives that are ready to explode; they just need a certain amount of energy to start the reaction.

    Hydrogen will burn.. you might think of the Hinenberg disaster? I turns out, after all these years, that what caused the explosive burning of the Hindenberg was not the hydrogen, but actually the coating used on the canvas covering of the blimp. It contained the ingredients for solid rocket fuel (unknown at the time).

    Also, fuel cells like these don't have large supplies of compressed Hydrogen; they extract it from a hydrocarbon, methanol in this case I think. It's more efficient to carry fuel, and you don't mess with compressed canisters.
  • You may not be able to take a fuel-cell-powered computer on a civilian commercial aircraft. A military aircraft is a different matter -- well, some of them are designed to carry bombs..although the bombs are supposed to detonate externally.
  • I've seen several posts about explosions.

    First, in battle these guys are carrying grenades, ammo (from .223 to mortar rounds to 40mm grenades), (and probably explosives if I am an engineer.) I don't think a 3 pound power unit is going to turn effective soldiers into walking ordnance.

    Second, the tank isn't going to have oxygen in it, so why would it explode? It seems like there would be a fireball where the fuel escapes, but that not nearly as big of a problem (like gut wound vs. singed uniform/missing eyebrows.) Not that it is trivial, but there are bigger fish to fry on the battlefield.

    Come to think of it; if this thing could power effective friend/foe ID it would be well worth the risk.


  • Why can't they just chain together a bunch of potatos like that spudserver? They could get higher voltages and power density by slicing them thin and stacking them in a tube. Sure, it wouldn't last quite a week and they might need to pay the folks at Pringles for using their idea, but they could EAT the spuds if they got hungry so that would make up for it. I read somewhere on the internet that the military is working on a super high power laser defense system for it's portable kitchens that is powered entirely by army rations. Point defense AND it's tasty! I want to be an army cook just to get to shoot those lasers.

  • Remember that warfare is "merely" the last step taken when non-violent diplomacy fails to produce the desired effects. War is just another political tool, and the way to reduce it's use is to modify the national objectives and political behaviors.

    War is supposed to be the last resort when all else fails. With that as a starting argument, it only makes sense that the instruments of war are as efficient as possible to get the job done in as short a time as possible with a minimum of undesirable disruption to either side of the conflict. Reducing the tools of the world's military forces to knives and clubs (or fists and feet) would simply cause the conflicts to drag on endlessly. Better to get it over with so non-violent diplomacy can continue.

    Don't hinder the "science of war", come up with better diplomatic alternatives so war isn't necessary. Then back it up with a really big stick.
  • It's not like gasoline isn't much more horrible, and most slashdot readers probably drive around in machines containing over a hundred pounds of highly volatile liquid fuel that will burn or explode violently at the slightest spark.

    Gasoline won't explode "at the slightest spark." Only in the movies.

    It will, of course, burn, quite well under most circumstances. But those hollywood explosions are done with dynamite.

    Gasoline, you see, burns quite slowly. Explosives burn very quickly.

    Hydrogen is explosive, however the cell doesn't run on hydrogen, and it's not a particularly efficient explosive anyhow. It's main potential is for fusion.

    Anyhow, the cell in the article uses methyl, poisonous alcohol. Hardly an explosive risk.

    "That old saw about the early bird just goes to show that the worm should have stayed in bed."
  • Shooting someone in the face is just not as satisfying as making them into a flamming, screaming disaster. Sorry to many video games. The original post is mostly humor, but their could be problems with carring flamable material around a battle field.

    This does make a good target if your a sniper and believe that your target may be wearing body armor. It's already located at about the center of mass for the person so if you actually miss the fuel cell you'll still probably take out your target.

    What happens if this thing gets punctured by something besides a sniper, say for instance a little shrapnel. If the soldier doesn't realize it the flash from his gun, or nearby flame, could ignite the vapor depending on what liquid fuel is used.

  • Why would a soldier want to carry around canisters of flamable liquid in a battlefield?

    These fuel cells are going to get their hydrogen from liquid fuels like gasoline, or diesel.

    Seems like it would be a little dangerous to carry a fairly large container of gasoline on ones back while being shot at and dodging shrapnel. These would make easy targets for a sniper, just shoot it with a phosphorus tipped bullet and BAMMMM flaming soldier.

  • Gasoline won't explode "at the slightest spark." Only in the movies.

    Hydrogen is much the same. Like most any fuel, it only explodes if it is mixed in with the proper proportion of oxidant (eg. Oxygen). Real explosives, like TNT or plastique have a built-in oxidant.

    Even so, one point of the fuel cell, in the article, is that it converts methanol to hydrogen on the fly... The reason for this isn't to avoid the volatility of hydrogen. It's so that you have a liquified source of hydrogen fue,l which is far easier to lug around than a compressed-gas cylinder.Just the packaging difference could save you 1-20 pounds, depending on your fuel load.

    About 20 years ago at the Ontario Science center, I remember that they did a demonstration with two baloons. One was filled with pure propane, the other was filled with a 1/3 propane/oxygen mixture. Lighting the pure propane balloon gave a nice big flame for a second or two. Lighting the propane/oxygen mixture gave a nice resounding BOOM. Hydrogen would be the same.

  • It's possible that the processore would 'burn' the CO with free air to produce CO.
  • Yep, or a magazine full of live ammo, or a hand grenade, or a shoulder fired rocket, etc... Soldiers aren't too unacustomed to carrying explosive/volitile/otherwise dangerous materials.

  • 2 to 3 pounds may sound like a lot, but it gets more reasonable when you consider that it means not carrying a conventional battery or an AC adapter around.
    It may sound like a lot to a geek, but these guys are trained to jog in +30-pound backpacks, so I wouldn't forsee problems with a battery that weighs as much as a large can of beans.


  • What if the bullet hits you?
  • The article didn't mention this anywhere, but what it seems ideally suited for is powering Land Warrior [] system -

    I don't have my other links to details now but could retrieve if anyone's interested (i used LW as an example of a wearable computer for User Interface Seminar - i bet the only person in the history of such classes to use LW for wearables example and Abrams' IVIS system for car computers example :)

  • Try being a soldier, and carrying that weight. Any of it. Every pound becomes significant, readily...

  • what happens if a bullet hits it and, assuming this is a hydrogen fuel cell, which seems likely, you would have a nice little blast
    You obviously didn't read the article. This fuel cell uses methanol as fuel. Besides, part of an infantryman's job description is carrying around large quantaties of things that go boom.
  • If you look at the diagram in the article, you would see that the device is a pair of 4 x 21 cm cylinders (1.5" x 8.25"), 8 cm of which is the fuel tank. An 8x4 cm cylinder has a volume of 401.92 ml. Considering that methanol has a specific density slightly less than that of water, the fuel load is going to be around 800 g. (1.77 lbs) - about the same same volume and weight as a normal bottle of booze. The whole device looks like it will be about the same size and weight as a pair of mag-lite [] flashlights
  • oops... 4cm is the diameter, not the radius; so the volume would only be 4*pi*8 cm^3, not 16*pi*8 cm^3, or a little over 100 cm^3 each, for a total of 200ml fuel capacity (less than 7 oz). The overall size & weight should still be about the same as a pair of good, solid D-cell flashlights.
  • The formula for methanol is (IIRC) CH3OH - a methane molecule with one of the hydrogen ions replaced with a hydroxol group. Ethanol (the stuff in your beer) is C2H5OH, ethane with a hydroxol added. Combustion of either in an oxygen atmosphere releases C02, H2O (carbon dioxide and water). Compared to the equivelent hydrocarbon, combustion of an alcohol gives 1 more water molocule and a little less engergy. High school chemistry was a looong time ago, so I might have made a mistake.
  • Watch who you are calling a retard. Read the article and do the math. The fuel tank in one of these fuel cells holds about 200ml of methanol - that's about 7 oz. The pyrotechnic effect of the fuel tank going up would be about the same as putting a firecracker in a can of sterno -- the guy carrying it might get a nasty 2nd degree burn, but that's about it. Considering that an infantryman (usually) carries 4 hand grenades, each with 4oz of C4 plastic explosive, as well as a couple hundred rounds of ammunition, a half a beer can of flaming alcohol is a trivial concern. You are only demonstrating your own ignorance - people living in in glass houses shouldn't go around thowing rocks. Try to get your military experience from somthing other than Quake and soldier of fortune.
  • The point is that carrying liquid fuel is hazardous in a combat area.
    BEING in a combat area is hazardous. Trying to run while wearing 80 lbs of gear while people shoot at you is hazardous. If you can replace 20 pounds of batteries with 2 pounds of fuel cells, you've gained yourself a distinct advantage -- either a lighter load or (more likely) the ability to carry more ammo, armor, food, and other assorted gear to help you keep your ass in one piece.

    It's a bigger advantage if you have infrared goggles to see the person shooting at you, then can pinpoint their location with a laser rangefinder with GPS tie-in, and send the target coordinates to your air/artillery support in as much time as it takes to push a button and say "Bravo Two to X-Ray Six, fire mission at transmitted coordinates, Over" That's what the idea of giving wearable computers to soldiers is all about.

  • Hell, yeah. USAF is the only smart service. In the other branches, the officers send the enlisted guys out to go & get shot at. In the AF, we enlisted guys send the officers out to go get shot at.

    Now don't get me wrong: I have a lot of respect for the guys who DO go out and put their asses in the line of fire (Hi, little brother), but it's a job best left to people who enjoy it and are good at it - because it's a HARD FUCKING JOB. I know where my talents lie, and they aren't in humping a pack & rifle around -- I did enough of it to know that I'd be more of a liability to an infantry squad than an asset, despite having qualified as expert with every weapon I trained on. I can (and did) help the guys in the trenches by hacking on systems that gather & distribute intelligence so they know where the bad guys are and what they are up to. Being a REMF may not have the glamor and machismo of being a "warfighter", but they are just as important in the big picture.

  • Deuterium IS toxic, but not by much. 1/6000 of seawater is D2O.
    Drinking 100% D2O will be bad for you.
    Once you hit 50% D2O in your cells they can't divide, and you get symptoms a lot like radiation poisoning or chemo.
    This page talks about the toxicity of heavy water []
    A few drops of it probably won't do much, but I am not a toxicologist...
  • Two or three pounds strapped to you won't really matter; in combat, you'll be carrying your M-16, which every soldier damn well knows the weight of, and you'll be wearing your Kevlar and LCE -- Load Carrying Equipment. With ammunition, full canteens, and a Big Heavy Helmet, you won't even notice the little computer battery behind you.

    But there's something vital being missed here:

    If bullets are hitting the soldier wearing this thing there is a vastly more immediate problem than "will my electronic device explode?" The questions consuming the soul of the servicemember will be "how can I stop getting shot?" and "who is shooting at me, that I may kill them?"
    Somehow, I don't think the wheet! of a round whistling past my ear will induce deep concern for my computer equipment.


    //Now with bleach!

  • I've been looking for a while for better sources of portable power, and hoping for a project like this. Fuel cells have been around for some time but not sold commercially because they are not commercially viable.

    But I've been wondering if there's any way to get convenient power out off the grid that's portable, and can generate the 10-15 watts they are talking about for this project. A fuel cell that could run off typical camp stove fuels would of course do the trick.

    But what about a tiny generator? How practical would a 12v generator that ran off camp stove fuel be? You couldn't wear it on your body, probably, but it could still have a lot of other application s for mobile equipment. Anybody heard of one of these?
  • I thought the Hindenburg burned so rapidly due to the aluminum paint the Nazi's used, rather than the Hydrogen gas

    Bingo. The paint they used was very similar to, I love this, rocket fuel. It doesn't ignite until it hits a fairly high temperature (700C or thereabouts ?), but when it does...


  • Hydrogen by itself carries far less energy than gas

    Not completely correct. Per mole, hydrogen packs a much greater punch than gasoline; something like 5-10x, I can't remember exactly. The problem is that it can't be compressed as much, not even in liquid form (and storing liquid hydrogen presents all kinds of difficulties). So the Joules per mole is greater but the Joules per liter is at best on the order of 1/2 or 1/3.

    Other than that, yeah, these things don't exactly pose a huge safety hazard to guys busy dealing with, say, bombs, shrapnel, and bullets aimed at their tender selves.


  • that's still a bunch of flammable goodness in your gear

    Earlier posts pointed out how there's very little hydrogen in the cell at any given time; it gets extracted from the methanol, which is not easily ignited.

    these fuel cells had better be made extremely foolproof.

    Certainly, but the universe is out there building better fools, the evil bastard. I suppose we here at /. will just have to do our patriotic duty and keep the worst and dimmest of them addicted to First Post's and Natalie Portman and hot grits so they'll never think to enlist. Damn, more trolls...


  • You can bomb it, obliterate it, bitch-slap it all to hell from the air, but the land isn't actually yours until you stick a chump with a rifle on it.

    I should point out that in Desert Storm the air war, while amazingly effective, really just loosened the Iraqis up (ie, destroyed the entire C&C system) for the guys in tanks to come and finish pounding their asses flat. Nice piece of work, really.


  • Methinks I sense a wee bit of hostility here. Maybe this'll cheer you up. Courtesy of Joke a Day [].

    An Army grunt stands in the rain with a 35 lb pack on his back, 15lb weapon in hand, after marching 12 miles, and says "God, this is SHIT."

    An Army Airborne grunt stands in the rain with a 45lb pack on his back weapon in hand, after jumping from an airplane and marching 18 miles, and says with a smile "God, this is THE shit."

    An Army Airborne Ranger lies in the mud, 55lb pack on his back, weapon in hand, after jumping from a plane into the swamp and marching 25 miles at night past the enemy, and says with a grin,"God, I LOVE this shit!"

    An Army Green Beret, Airborne/Ranger/Pathfinder qualified, kneels up to his nose in the stinking, infested mud of a swamp with a 65lb pack on his back and a weapon in both hands after jumping from an airplane into the ocean, swimming 10 miles to the swamp and killing an alligator, then crawling 30 miles through the brush to assault the enemy camp. He says with a passionate snarl, "God, gimmee Some MORE of this shit!"

    An Air Force cadet sits in an easy chair in his air-conditioned, carpeted room and says,"The cable's out? What kind of shit is that?!?"


  • 2-3 pounds is absolutely nothing when you consider that a full canteen of water weighs about that much. Having spent some time in uniform having to carry all manner of things on my person across all sorts of terraine I can say that 2-3 is *nothing*. What counts most is how awkward these things are and if they can be assimilated into the rest of your equipment. As an aside, my understanding is that the batteries for stinger missiles are both heavy and awkward so maybe these things can be of use in more than 1 application. I don't know too much about stinger missiles though, I was a medic.>:)
  • fuel processor that converts methanol into hydrogen.

    I'm not sure what the imperical formula for Methanol is, but I'm sure it's not only Hydrogen. Shouldn't there be other chemicals/elements left over too?

  • ...the Air Force is the only service where the enlisted men, technicians, and grunts get to stay safely behind the lines while the officers go out and risk their necks getting shot at.

    Sounds fair to me.

  • You (and the website you reference) have confused two wholly different technologies:

    1. Fuel cells generate electricity by the action of a replaceable chemical fuel, without the usual intermediate step of burning the fuel to generate heat to spin generators. They are a proven technology and most of the R&D is going into finding ways to use new fuels or make them smaller or work at lower temperatures (say, below the BP of water -- most fuel cells only work at very high temperatures).

    A fuel cell is not going to care whether its fuel is H or Deuterium because H and deuterium behave exactly the same in chemical reactions.

    2. Cold fusion, which is a scam and doesn't exist and doesn't work. Nobody has ever demonstrated cold fusion. If they had done so they would have gotten a crapload of neutrons, and in all likelihood they would be dead.

    This is not to say that cold fusion will remain forever impossible, only that nobody has ever demonstrated it. The current spin on the lack of neutrons seems to be that not only are they claiming a magic new way to fuse deuterium at low temperatures, they are magically fusing them in some new way that doesn't produce neutrons. Sorry, but I only swallow one magic trick per potential scam.

    From the website:

    As stated on Good Morning America, "It's either, you know, an ordinary chemical reaction that's not behaving the way we expect it to, or some kind of a nuclear reaction...It's neither one nor the other, so it really is just a genuine mystery right now."

    A great mystery, all right, except to those of us who know some nuclear physics; but not so much of a mystery as to prevent them from soliciting funds for further "research." At least they are honest enough to admit that what they have might not be cold fusion, but I bet most of their investors didn't catch that disclaimer.

  • You can generate power production on this scale with a toy steam engine. IIRC Edmund's Scientific even sells a kit that does just this trick, even including the light bulb.

    Slightly more practical, it should be no big trick to take the small 2-stroke gasoline engine off a gas-powered string trimmer and use it to power a small DC generator. Getting a generator of the right scale would be a problem, but you could probably find a permanent magnet DC motor the right size to run in reverse.

    Yet more practical, Mother Earth News once ran an article about converting a lawnmower into a portable DC arc welder using a car battery and alternator. This was a very cool project which I wish I had the time to try. You could, of course, use the same technique to power any 12V project. I could see this being used, for example, for a fairly high-power ham rig if you couldn't get a car to the site.

    The problem is that the efficiency of IC/SGS-generator production goes down with the scale. The smaller you make it, the less well it works -- which is why, of the examples I give here, only the welder is practical for anything. They're also noisy, require a lot of maintenance, and tend not to run reliably for long periods of time. At the scale of hand-carried portable, they just aren't practical.

  • The deuterium is mostly like hydrogen but only mostly. It's ok to burn with oxygen but I think it doesn't quite work right in biological systems. Kinda toxic. I've forgotten exactly what happens but it's not Good.

    Deuterium operates exactly the same way as hydrogen in chemical systems, biological or otherwise. It is not toxic. Tritium, which can (if it is present) also be concentrated by the process that isolates deuterium, is highly radioactive, and does represent a health threat. There was no tritium in the environment to be concentrated when the first experiments were done, but there is now thanks to the nuclear industry. This is about the only potential health threat I can think of from drinking heavy water.

    Except, of course, for the threat to your pocketbook -- heavy water is brutally expensive. That would be one hell of an expensive pause for refreshment if you were to drink a glass of the stuff.

  • (Actually, I think this would be great for our (us being the US) soldiers because of the offensive capabilies it'd add - thermal imaging will let our snipers own theirs!)

    Bah! I always knew our military was just a bunch of campers! =)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 14, 2001 @07:06PM (#291016)
    Just make sure the Chinese don't manage to get their hands on this technology... oh, nevermind, you can't take it on plaines.
  • by Myself ( 57572 ) on Saturday April 14, 2001 @07:10PM (#291017) Journal
    The article is talking about a fuel processor, which produces the hydrogen which is then fed into a fuel cell. The fuel cell itself is existing tech, the innovation here is the processor.

    Seems to me that this would have great applications elsewhere, say in remotely-located weather stations.
  • by michaelmalak ( 91262 ) <> on Sunday April 15, 2001 @04:40AM (#291018) Homepage
    a system weighing 10 times less than batteries soldiers currently carry

    So I guess that's negative nine times the weight of current batteries.

  • For some reason with the fuel cells I think of the Imperial Stormtroopers...

    Have you ever noticed that moderators usually knee-jerk moderate comments below #20 down? I suppose I should type more slowly. And they collectively have little sense of off the wall humor, I suppose that's why SpanishInquisition never posts anymore, I really liked him.


  • by loafy ( 442322 ) on Saturday April 14, 2001 @07:32PM (#291020)
    I heard a piece on the radio a few weeks ago about an even smaller fuel cell--about the size of a thimble--that could be used to fuel cellular phones... I dont recall if the technology was actually available now or not... I think that hydrogen fuel cells are the only real viable alternative energy source, ballard fuel cells [] have been used in several large cities to power public transportation for some time now. Another advantage is that hydrogen in its liquified form can be distributed with little modification to todays gas distribution infastructure.
  • by Liquid-Gecka ( 319494 ) on Saturday April 14, 2001 @07:11PM (#291021)
    These will not be used in battle for the time being. These are mostly for behind the lines type of service. One example I know of is a active repair utility. You can pull up all the documentation you need to repair a vehicle on the field without having to call or talk to somebody. You can also look at the schematic of something without carrying around piles of papers. And when your underneath something trying to put it back together, its really nice to just pull up the information you need on a wearable computer instead of having to continuously remove yourself to look at a laptop or desktop computer.
    The same ideas could be applied to medical personnel. Having a complete online medical resource kit could be really useful when in the middle of nowhere trying to repair bullet wounds.

Experience varies directly with equipment ruined.