Widgets Magazine
MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Army just figured out a way to recharge your radio with pee

(Public domain, U.S. Army Master Sgt. Mark Olsen)

So you're in the OP, and you've identified the supply route that Chinese troops are using to resupply and reinforce their frontline troops. But the enemy managed to cut off your own resupply two days ago when a platoon slipped by undetected and set up to your rear. Now, you need to get the intel back to base and try to squirt home, but your batteries are dead. It's okay, though, because, in this new future, you can just piss into the battery.


Well, you could do that if you were using a hydrogen fuel cell battery and have a tablet of the new aluminum alloy powder developed by researchers working with the U.S. Army. Don't pee onto your current batteries. That will not work.

The Army's powder is a "structurally-stable, aluminum-based nanogalvanic alloy." Basically, when the powder is exposed to any liquid containing water, it releases hydrogen. In a hydrogen fuel cell, that hydrogen can then be split into its component proton and electron. The proton passes through a membrane to create a positive charge on the other end of a circuit, and that draws the electron through the circuit, powering the radio, vehicle, or whatever else you hook it up to.

At the end, the proton and electron recombine into hydrogen, combine with oxygen, and are disposed of as water in a low-temperature exhaust.

"This is on-demand hydrogen production," said Dr. Anit Giri, a materials scientist at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. "Utilizing hydrogen, you can generate power on-demand, which is very important for the Soldier."

It's all environmentally friendly, cheap, and—more importantly for troops—leaves no exhaust that could be easily detected by the enemy. Depending on the exact makeup of the equipment, troops could even drink their radio or vehicle exhaust if they were using hydrogen fuel cells.

New Jersey Best Warrior Competition. That radio is not fueled by pee. Yet.

(New Jersey National Guard Master Sgt. Mark Olsen)

And hydrogen is very energy dense, having 200 times as much specific energy as lithium batteries. But the military has resisted using hydrogen fuel sources for the same reason that auto manufacturers and other industries have been slow to adopt it: transporting hydrogen is costly and challenging.

While hydrogen fuel cell cars can be refueled at any hydrogen filling station as quickly as their gas counterparts, they can go twice as far. But the streets have more electric and gasoline-powered vehicles because it's way easier to recharge and refuel those vehicles than to find a hydrogen station.

But with the new powder, the Army might be able to generate hydrogen on demand at bases around the world. And the technology is so promising that civilian corporations are lining up to use the powder here in the states.

According to an Army press release, H2 Power, LLC of Chicago has secured a license that grants it "the right to use the patent in automotive and transportation power generation applications related to '2/3/4/6 wheeled vehicles, such as motorcycles, all sizes of cars, minivans, vans, SUV, pick-up trucks, panel trucks other light and medium trucks up to 26,000 pounds and any size bus.'"

H2 Power is envisioning a future where existing gas stations can be easily converted into hydrogen fueling stations without the need for new pipelines or trucks to constantly ferry hydrogen to the station.

"The powder is safe to handle, is 100 percent environmentally friendly, and its residue can be recycled an unlimited number of times back into aluminum, for more powder. Recycling apart, only water and powder are necessary to recreate this renewable energy cycle, anywhere in the world," H2 Power CEO Fabrice Bonvoisin said, according to a TechXplore article.

"For example, this technology enables us to transform existing gas stations into power stations where hydrogen and electricity can be produced on-demand for the benefit of the environment and the users of electric and hydrogen vehicles or equipment. We can't wait to work with OEMs of all kind to unleash the genuine hydrogen economy that so many of us are waiting for," he said.

The Army could pull this same trick at bases around the world. With a static supply of the aluminum powder, it could generate its own fuel from water and electricity. This would be good for bases around the world as it would reduce the cost to run fleets of vehicles, but it would be game-changing at remote bases where frontline commanders could create their own fuel, slashing their logistics support requirement.

They would need constant power generation, though, meaning the Army would need to invest more heavily in mobile solar or nuclear solutions to fully realize the advantages of their hydrogen breakthrough.