The U.S. Department of Defense has adopted the Dupont and SFC Smart Fuel Cell AG product as the “M-25” with the announcement that the M-25 is already deployed. The M-25 is a Direct Methanol Fuel Cell (DMFC) that uses the Dupont fuel cell technology with the expertise of SFC in manufacturing and fuel cell control sets.

The SFC & Dupont Direct Methanol Fuel Cell BackPack

The unit is so small that it is worn by soldiers in the field to charge batteries of such things as communications and navigation gear. The unit runs silently and can operate continuously thus being a recharger or direct powering unit. The M-25 offers 72 hours of operation and can be extended with a simple refill of methanol. The new deployment is a milestone from the DOD’s point of view, breaking through the limits of batteries, their charge limits and weights. The M-25 substitutes lowered weights and prolonged power that would only be limited by the ability to supply methanol fuel. At 80% lower weight than batteries of equivalent capacity the break out is a welcome new equipment deployment.

The M-25 is from a program ran by the Secretary of Defense’s Defense Acquisition Challenge Program that was established to provide opportunities for increasing introductions of innovative and cost saving technologies, products or processes. Dupont and SFC were selected for the fuel cell development in November 2005 and have since passed the DOD’s important milestones.

That’s a break out in military thinking. The other side is that the technology has been paralleling in consumer goods the whole way. You can buy a DMFC today, called the EFOY. While they are produced in small volumes, they are in production and for sale. They can be “stacked” to provide up to 8,000 watt hours per day for a single feed to load. While 8kw isn’t going to power a car for a day, it does show that DMFC is much further along than we had been thinking.

The Three OFOY units available 6/30/08

Yet, there is a warming thought that this technology is coming fast. The commercial units are shipping fully automated to charge batteries in starting itself up as it senses opportunity and shutting itself down and the batteries become topped off, with no user intervention required. Moreover, the EFOY can be monitored by either a personal computer or even a cell phone.

The commercial units are not really small yet but offer a surprising range of operating temperature. –4 to 104 F and conveniently run at 12 volts.

This is a sense of what is coming. Intense research in underway from Japan to the U.S. and on to Europe. The opportunity to solve a wealth of problems that hydrogen alone entails by the simple expedient of using the 4 hydrogen atoms hooked to a single carbon atom using methanol is too good to overlook.

I hope that the hybrid car developers seize this breakout and look into the recharge potential of DMFCs. The issue remaining is the fuel efficiency of the EFOY. At 10 liters of fuel for 760 amp hours is no great deal so far, it’s a good start and commercially viable in special situations.

The DMFC offers the opportunity to leave the internal combustion engine for personal transportation behind us. The announcement of a direct methanol fuel cell that can withstand the rigors of military use in the field is a breakout for this technology. Time and adoption by other users will drive more volume in manufacturing thus lowering costs over time. Research should bring us weight and size reductions, and improve fuel efficiency. The DMFC can offer manufacturers the way to full electric drive, and some smart engineering will reduce the battery and capacitor component needed to get long ranges and could offer much more power for accessories.

This is important news. Overlooked by the mainstream media and because of that the politicians, which would make it big news, which could be a good thing for now. At current production rates and pricing, the specialists will be using them, but as the conversation of equipping personal vehicles in stack sets offers production in millions of units the prices will come down.

This is a good day isn’t it? Hmm, 76Ah @12v per liter . . . Methanol direct to electricity. And this is just the start!


1 Comment so far

  1. Bill Johnson on January 15, 2009 10:07 AM

    I agree that as we move forward with the practicality of using fuel cells, we’re going to find that hydrogen is not the savior that everyone claims it will be. There are many drawbacks to hydrogen related to its cost of production, storage, and reactivity. DFMC’s offer a liquid fuel containing concentrated Hydrogen that can exist in a small form factor. The drawback here is that Methanol is some nasty stuff. I think we need to look to propane to power our fuel cells utilizing reformer technology. The infrastructure already exists to manufature and deliver it.

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