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US Army hands out $3.5m for portable fuel-cell powerpack

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The US Army has dished out further funds in its quest for portable electric systems, this time making a $3.65m award to Protonx Technology Corp of Massachusetts for continuing development of its Pulse M250 methanol fuel cell powerpack.

"Our product development work for Pulse M250, now supported by a total of $7.15 million from the U.S. Army, has been highly successful to date," said Scott Pearson, Protonex CEO.

"This new program will accelerate our efforts to reach field-readiness and evolve Pulse M250 into its final form."

The Pulse M250 is a 250-watt package using proton-exchange-membrane cells running on reformed methanol fuel. The programme is being funded by the US Army Research Office, and Protonex are partnered with US defence giant Raytheon in the M250 effort. The new funding award was announced yesterday.

With modern soldiers nowadays tending to use up batteries faster than food or ammo, the military need for compact, energy-dense power supplies to use in the field is becoming acute. Smaller portable generators are normally heavy, noisy and don't put out a huge amount of power.

Fuel cells are seen as one possible solution here, as they should be more easily scaled down in size and ought to be easily capable of holding more energy than batteries for a given weight. These qualities have also made them attractive to designers of smaller electric robots and unmanned aircraft.

The US military effort towards exploiting fuel cells' potential advantages doesn't seem to have produced a clear winner yet, however. The Special Operations Command has previously funded (pdf) Jadoo Power of California, for instance, and there are other contenders in the market.

The Department of Defense is also running a $1m Wearable Power Prize, with over a hundred entrants at the last count - from American defence heavyweights like Lockheed to apparent individual inventors. ®

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