Press Release for Monday, February 18, 2008

UNF Gets Defense Funding to Build Fuel Cell Military Laptops

Contact: Joanna Norris, Assistant Director
Department of Media Relations and Events
(904) 620-2102

The University of North Florida received $2 million in defense funding to develop a prototype for a direct methanol fuel cell-powered laptop to be used by the United States military, allowing soldiers to have all-day power supply and wireless mobile computing.

“The University is so grateful to Senator Mel Martinez and Congressman Ander Crenshaw for sponsoring the bill to get the much-needed funding for this important military defense project,” said UNF President John A. Delaney. “This project will utilize UNF’s Clean and Renewable Energy Laboratory and will attract top faculty and students to our engineering graduate program.”

UNF is spearheading the project, and is partnering with PolyFuel (, the world leader in portable fuel cell membrane technology, and the University of Florida. The team will work to develop and demonstrate technologies to extend the run-time and reduce logistical requirements for military laptop computers.

“This defense project is a real opportunity for UNF’s School of Engineering to work with high-tech partners. It also shows the commitment and support by the University’s administration to develop the School of Engineering as a leader in the community,” said Dr. James Fletcher, UNF’s lead researcher on the fuel cell project and mechanical engineering professor.

Direct methanol fuel cells (DMFC) are emerging as the technology of choice to enable continuous operation of critical national security and commercial systems. Currently, soldiers go into battle with several pounds of batteries. Traditional batteries use heavy metals and need to be recharged, while DMFC devices offer higher energy density, reduced weight and extended run-time compared to conventional battery alternatives.

Using direct methanol fuel cells will help the military to reduce reliance on batteries and will also help to improve the capabilities of the fighting soldier. Standard fuel cartridges fit in most DMFC designs, so the supply chain for military field electronics could be greatly simplified.

A laptop powered by direct methanol fuel cells can operate 10 times longer than one using traditional batteries. Soldiers will be able to pop in a cartridge containing liquid methanol and refuel their lap top computers as opposed to taking the time to recharge their batteries.

The defense project, which will kick off sometime this spring, will span three years and will be conducted in three phases: redesign, lab testing and field testing. UNF and its research team will take the current military design and will improve it to meet military specifications. Once a prototype is redesigned, testing of the device will occur in the lab and in the field.