Joanna Norris, Assistant Director
Department of Media Relations and Events
The University of North Florida’s School
of Engineering received a combined
$9.4 million in contracts from the U.S. Army CERDEC (Communications-Electronics
Research, Development and Engineering
Center) and the U.S. Department
of Energy (DOE) for fuel cell research.
of the combined fuel cell contracts is the largest amount in total contract
value that the University has ever received for a technology-related research activity.
The funds from the contracts will be used by UNF researchers to continue the
development and commercialization of direct methanol fuel cell power sources
for two laptops, one to be used by American soldiers and the other by the
latest contract with the Army CERDEC, when awarded later this summer, will
provide UNF with $3.2 million for the third year of a four-year project. UNF and
University of Florida researchers along with UNF engineering students are working
to replace the battery in military laptops with a methanol fuel cell to make
our soldiers more efficient and safer in battle. This research could result in
power supplies that are lighter, more reliable, and less costly to make and
better for the environment.
energy sources for the dismounted soldier and for unmanned reconnaissance are
of critical importance. The project with UNF will lead to a substantial
improvement in such power sources, making them smaller, lighter, and more cost
effective than today’s technology solutions.
University leveraged the seed money for the project into additional funding for
the research from the DOE. The contracts with the DOE are for two projects and
will provide UNF with $2.5 million per project, which is the largest single
federal contract UNF has ever received to date. One of the projects focuses on
the development of a commercialized version of the military laptop power supply
and is funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The second
project, funded through the DOE Fuel Cell Technologies Program, works to
improve the membrane electrode assembly, the key component of the power system,
and make it even better. Subcontractors on these projects are UF, Northeastern University and Johnson Matthey, a global
Fletcher, a UNF mechanical engineering professor and the principle investigator
for all of the contracts, emphasized the potential for income to UNF through
licensing of the UNF intellectual property and the other advantages that accrue
from sponsored research programs. “The Army and DOE funding allow the School of Engineering to attract research faculty,
teaching faculty and students who might not otherwise come to UNF,” he said. “Some
graduates and faculty may be involved in UNF spin-off companies based on these
underlying technologies that can bring high-tech jobs and patents to the First Coast
methanol fuel cells (DMFC) are emerging as the technology of choice to enable
continuous operation of critical national security and commercial systems.
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. A laptop powered by direct
methanol fuel cells can operate 10 times longer than one using traditional
batteries. Soldiers will be able to insert a cartridge containing liquid
methanol and refuel their lap top computers as opposed to taking the time to
recharge their batteries.
the military laptop project started in August of 2009, UNF was partnering with
PolyFuel Inc., a former world leader in portable fuel cell membrane technology.
UNF and the Army partnered to purchase significant portions of PolyFuel for its
relevant intellectual property and equipment so the research can continue to
advance. As a result, UNF has a presence in the Silicon Valley in California and Vancouver,
PolyFuel had operational facilities.
projects with the DOE will allow UNF, as owners of the intellectual property,
to license the fuel cell membranes and technology to commercial entities, which
will then produce it and sell it. The result of the research will be a membrane
that will be more efficient and durable at a lower cost, with the goal of
manufacturing a power-producing device that will allow products, such as
laptops, to be truly wireless, never having to plug it in to an outlet.
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