Yale engineers awarded $2.4 million grant to help develop lightweight power pack for soldiers of the future

May 07, 2001

New Haven, Conn. - The U.S. Department of Defense has awarded the Yale Combustion Group in the Department of Engineering a $2.4 million grant to help develop lightweight, readily rechargeable micro-combustion batteries for the soldier of the future.

"Conventional batteries are not meeting the needs of the military because they are too bulky and heavy, but micro-combustion powered batteries will be dramatically more efficient," said Alessandro Gomez, professor of mechanical engineering at Yale, director of the Yale Center for Combustion Studies and principal investigator on the project. "The military is shooting for something that weighs as little as a few ounces to power, for example, a one-day mission in the field, or less than two pounds for a three-day mission, fuel included."

Yale's grant from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) is to develop micro-combustion batteries using liquid hydrocarbons. The grant is part of the "Palm Power" program to address the need for lighter and more compact electrical power sources for soldier, robotic and other emerging applications. Small energy conversion devices that convert high-energy content fuels to electricity will be required to address the anticipated energy shortfall for many Department of Defense missions.

The U.S. military envisions its soldier of the future to have the ability to power and control laser guided weapons and to keep in wireless contact with his or her home base from anywhere on the ground. In order to achieve this, the military needs batteries that will continue to provide power to ground soldiers for several days at a time and still be lightweight enough to carry around. Gomez said the military also needs lighter power sources for applications such as its Micro Air Vehicles, tiny five-or-six inch aircraft that might be used in reconnaissance missions.

The large power density offered by liquid and solid fuels, up to two orders of magnitude larger than the best batteries available on the market today, suggest that combustion may be attractive for power generation at scales much smaller than previously explored, with overall system dimensions on the order of millimeters or, at most, centimeters.

The lightweight power sources probably would have civilian applications in the future, such as for laptop computers, Gomez said.

Among collaborators on the project will be Marshall Long, professor and chair of mechanical engineering, who will be in charge of the development and application of laser-diagnostic techniques to these systems; Lisa Pfefferle, professor and chair of chemical engineering, who will implement the catalytic approach; Daniel Rosner, professor of chemical engineering, who will be involved in issues related to the effect of large surface area on chemical kinetics and with heat transfer optimization; Mitchell Smoke, the Strathcona Professor of Mechanical Engineering, who will be in charge of the computational part of the program; Mark Reed, the Harold Hodgkinson Professor of Engineering and Applied Science and chair of electrical engineering, and James Klemic, postdoctoral associate in electrical engineering, who will deal with the micro-fabrication and prototype development.

Yale University

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