Military Embedded Systems

Army Research Lab energy discovery may aid soldiers in the field


July 27, 2017

Lisa Daigle

Assistant Managing Editor

Military Embedded Systems

Army Research Lab energy discovery may aid soldiers in the field
Army researcher Anthony J. Roberts inflates a balloon with hydrogen produced from a chemical reaction between water and an aluminum nanomaterial powder discovered at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. (U.S. Army photo

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. Scientists and engineers at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) recently made a discovery that, if developed, could have important implications for future power and energy applications for military personnel in the field.

During routine materials experimentation at the ARL, a team of researchers observed a bubbling reaction when adding water to a nanogalvanic aluminum-based powder. The team further investigated and found that water — two molecules of hydrogen and one of oxygen — splits apart when coming into contact with their unique aluminum nanomaterial, without needing a catalyst to separate the molecules.

"The hydrogen that is given off can be used as a fuel in a fuel cell," said Scott Grendahl, a materials engineer and team leader. "What we discovered is a mechanism for a rapid and spontaneous hydrolysis of water."

Dr. Anit Giri, a physicist with the lab's Weapons and Materials Research Directorate, said of the discovery: "In our case, it does not need a catalyst. Also, it is very fast. For example, we have calculated that one kilogram of aluminum powder can produce 220 kilowatts of energy in just three minutes." That number doubles when the amount of heat energy produced by the exothermic reaction is also measured, he said.

Researchers said that one possible application of the discovery that may help future soldiers is the potential to recharge mobile devices for reconnaissance teams in the field. "These teams are out for a short number of days, three to five days, and a lot of that depends not only on their food supplies, but on how long their supplies last in terms of their equipment and right now that stems from lithium batteries," Grendahl said. "If we can recharge those batteries, they can stay out longer."



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