DARPA donates new fuel cells to MCCES

20 Apr 2001 | Cpl. Brent Walker

In the near future, the Marine Corps could save millions by adopting now-experimental fuel cells to replace the batteries currently powering electronic field equipment.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency recently donated two hydrogen-powered fuel cells for use by students at the Marine Corps Communications and Electronics School.

The fuel cells work much like batteries, but the hydrogen that now powers them is cheap and replaceable. That means the cells can be used over and over again.

"During tests at a recent Combined Arms Exercise, we were able to replace $8,000 in traditional batteries with $250 in hydrogen," said Dr. Bob Nowak, DARPA program manager.

Nowak explained that each 12-volt fuel cell, known as a "personal power system," can power a communications re-transmit site or two PRC-119 field radios. In the future, he explained, the fuel cells will be powered by methanol rather than hydrogen. Ultimately, he said, fuel cell developers would like to see a JP8-powered fuel cell.

While the fuel cells have already been extensively field tested in real-world situations, Marines of MCCES's "B" Co. will now get a chance to put the new technology through its paces. The goal, DARPA researchers agreed, is the make the equipment user friendly for the average private first class or lance corporal.

DARPA's partnership with the Marine Corps allows DARPA to field test new ideas while providing the Corps with a glimpse of emerging technologies.

"I appreciate the opportunity for us to see what's coming out down the road," said Col. David Maltby, MCCES commanding officer. "These experiments enlighten our instructors on new technology."

Maltby explained that, since instructors can find out what's in store, they will have a working knowledge of even the most revolutionary new developments by the time they are tasked with teaching that technology to new Marines.

BGen. Joseph F. Weber, commanding general, MAGTF Training Command, said equipment tests add a new and valuable facet to MAGTF TC's mission here in the middle of the Mojave Desert.

"We don't want this to be just a combined arms center," the General said. "We'd also like it to be the Marine Corps' premier experimentation center."
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