SFC Fuel Cells Wins Dept. of Defense "Wearable Power Competition"

The Department of Defense is looking for something light but powerful for U.S. soldiers to wear. The Department doled out $1.75 million in prize money to the makers of three light-weight power devices for its inaugural “Wearable Power Competition” over the weekend, following a grueling field test of competing fuel cells, batteries and energy storage units. Coming out on top was German fuel cell maker Smart Fuel Cells (SFC), which took both first and third place, while AppliedAdaptive Materials (s AMI) scored second for its own fuel cell.

The competition, which attracted military heavyweights like Lockheed Martin as well as battery veterans like Ray-O-Vac, sought the safest and most power dense device that could be worn by a soldier and produce 20 watts average power for 96 hours but weigh less than 4 kilograms — about half the weight of an equivalent battery system. The contest received nearly 170 entrants before whittling the list down to 48 finalists. Of those, 20 teams were selected to put their power devices through an eight-day bench test at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

SFC took home first place, and $1 million, for its M-25 Portable Fuel Cell, which it co-developed with DuPont. The cell uses DuPont’s (s DD) direct methanol technology and SFC’s fuel cell design and was deployed for limited use in the field for the U.S. Army earlier this year. SFC eked out a first place win over Applied Materials’ propane-powered solid-oxide fuel cells in part because it was 28 grams lighter.

SFC also won third place (and another $500,000) for its JENNY fuel cell, developed with partner Capitol Connections LLC of Middleburg, Va. The JENNY system is currently being field tested by NATO. Both systems include a fuel cell, a fuel cartridge, a rechargeable Li-ion battery and a voltage converter, and both devices were still ticking when the bench test ended, the company says.

Mobile energy storage for the military could be big business for little startups. Lockheed has partnered with EEStor to deploy its ultracapacitor-derived device on the battlefield, while Altairnano has signed a $2.5 million deal with U.S. Navy to test its ceramic Li-ion batteries. Meanwhile, Boise, Idaho-based M2E is developing a device that can convert kinetic energy into electricity and says it will be testing units with the U.S. military sometime this year.

Images courtesy of SFC.