UltraCell Applications

August 30, 2018
UltraCell supports US Army plans to utilize windshield washer fluid as forward deployed fuel source for man portable fuel cells.

By Stew Magnuson

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - Fuel cells using methanol may finally be
making inroads with the Army after years of research and development.

Beth Ferry, power division chief at the Army's Communications-Electronics
Research, Development and Engineering Center, said resistance to the
technology has come in the form of the service's "one fuel forward" policy
of sticking with JP-8 to power all its ground vehicles, aircraft and

JP-8, however, has many impurities that make its use as stock for fuel cells
inefficient. That, plus the desire to have only one fuel in the logistics
tail, has impeded the use of methanol fuel cells in battlefields.

But methanol is already widely distributed in the Army in the form of
windshield wiper fluid.

"Look at the ingredients on the back," Ferry told National Defense.

Brad McNeilly-Anta, command post consultant at CERDEC, said there will be a
feasibility study to see if the dyes and cleaning agents can be stripped
away from windshield wiper fluid. Doing so would make it an efficient stock
for methanol fuel cells.

Meanwhile, opposition to methanol-based fuel cells in the Army is breaking
down, Ferry said. Special Operations Command is already using it for some
niche applications. It has all of its safety certifications and - since it
comes in bottles - is nothing more than "packaged energy" just like a
regular battery, she said.

CERDEC is using an XX55 fuel cell made by Ultracell LLC of Livermore,
California, that supplies energy to the experimental expeditionary joint
battle command platform. The backpackable system - which is designed to
provide dismounted troops satellite connectivity - once weighed 60 pounds,
but is now down to 23 pounds, said McNeilly-Anta.

Part of the solution to reducing the weight was the fuel cell. It took two
standard batteries to power the transceiver, pad and encryption device. Now,
a 1-liter package of methanol coupled with the fuel cell does all that for
more than 24 hours, he said.

Ferry said methanol fuel cells are being looked at more seriously for these
niche applications.

There is also some disagreement within the Army on what the "one fuel
forward" policy means. "Would we be running a vehicle on a methanol fueled
battery? No. But when you look at methanol as a packaged fuel . how is it
different from a battery?" she asked.