The 41st Power Sources Conference
A Challenge to Create Portable Power Sources
for a Victorious Military
by Shirley Georgi
The Impact of the War with Iraq
Batteries received a prominent place in the Iraqi War. Never before had a military confrontation been so dependent on portable power for its communications, navigations and control of weaponry. It was not uncommon for articles to be published such as “If We Run Out of Batteries, This War is Screwed” by Joshua Davis. One of the missions was to establish a digital beachhead in central Iraq. This cannot be done without portable power.
During the summer of 2003, soldiers were beginning to test rugged handhelds and tablet PCs having Global Positioning System and communications software. The 1st Brigade of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment used handhelds and notebooks in battle scenarios.
On September 3, 2003, the Defense Tech publication discussed the critical shortage of primary batteries, the BA 5590, which was the military’s most widely used portable power source for such power items as the a Signal Channel Ground and Airborne Radio Systems radios, Javelin antitank missiles as well as nuclear, biological and chemical alarms. The Marines alone were using 3,028 disposable batteries per day. Each person out on the battlefield had no way of knowing how much charge each battery had left, so batteries were exchanged before they went “dead” and thus the military had a difficult time keeping an inventory of batteries.
Batteries were a primary power source for soldiers in the field. In Iraq, the average solider carried 20 pounds of batteries to support his/her high-tech gear. The average pack weighed about 65 pounds so batteries were almost a third of their load. Will more batteries be necessary in the future or will a small number of batteries be able to provide multifunctional power for a number of devices? What is a realistic quantity and poundage of batteries one soldier can carry?
Relating Operation Iraqi Freedom
to the 41st Power Sources Conference
The military market is no longer viewed as a small niche market for only a few players in industry and government researchers. The military is going portable and that means a need for more batteries (both primary and rechargeable) and perhaps even some photovoltaics, fuel cells and ultracapacitors. In fact, companies such as Energizer and Rayovac who are noted in the retail business of batteries had presence at the conference. Not all attendees were from the United States. With the global business relationships expanding, 12 other countries were represented including: The United Kingdom, Germany, Israel, Japan, Sweden, Canada, France, India, Korea, Australia, Finland, and Norway.
The 640 attendees at the 41st Power Sources Conference in Philadelphia in June 2004 had opportunity to select presentations from two and three track sessions. Topics covered were Advanced Materials and Processes, Molten Salt Batteries, Aqueous Batteries, Polymer Batteries, Secondary Lithium Batteries/Lithium-ion Batteries, Battery Safety and Testing, Hybrid Power Systems and Components, Charging Techniques & Power Management, and Fuel cells along with Fuel Generation, Storage and Reforming.
The scramble to find the needed quantities of the BA 5590 primary Lithium batteries, because of the unexpected large quantities which were used in fighting for Iraqi Freedom, has led the U.S. Military to rethink the usage of rechargeables. Training would need to take place for using these secondary batteries, including training in charging techniques. Last year, Geoff Fein of the National Defense magazine interviewed Navy Capt. Clark Driscoll, the Defense Contract Management liaison to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and questioned him about using rechargeables. His reply referenced replacing BA 5590s with rechargeable batteries. He said to get the soldiers to begin using rechargeables, the units would have to forward deploy a battery charging van. However, to use the van effectively, policy for using the batteries and training would need to take place so it would be well accepted by the soldiers in the field.
At the Power Sources Conference there was great deal of attention centered on rechargeable batteries. Of the approximate 150 papers presented, about 20+% were on Secondary Lithium/Lithium-ion Batteries. Companies and government agencies gave presentations which discussed continual efforts to:
- perfect safety for cells (i.e. “Safety Evaluation of Two Commercial Lithium-ion Batteries for Space Applications” -NASA-Johnson Space Center)
- enhance cell design and performance (i.e. “The Development of High Energy Density Lithium-ion Cells -AGM Batteries Ltd.)
- improve low temperature performance (i.e. “Lithium-ion Batteries for Low Temperature Applications” -T/J Technolologies)
- fine tune electrolytes (i.e. “Suppression of Decomposition Reactions of Lithium-ion Battery Electrolytes” -University of Rhode Island and Lithion)
- cycling performance (i.e. “Effect of LiBF4 on the Cycling Performance of Li-ion Batteries Containing Carbonate Solvents”- Yardney Technical Products/Lithion)
- enhance materials for anodes and cathodes (i.e. “Evaluation of Novel Carbon Based Additives in Li ion Anodes” - ITT Industries)
Fuel and Fuel Generation, Storage and Reforming
With five sections devoted to the fuel cell arena, 27 presenters discussed their progress with this technology. Since this article provides only a short overview of the conference, only two companies and their technologies will be highlighted now. More highlights will appear in future issues.
Medis Technologies, an Israeli company, stated that their direct liquid fuel cell (DLFC) was ready for prime time and emphasized their transition from development to full scale production of its first military application, a Power Pack for General Dynamics’ PDAs. Working prototypes were on hand at the conference.
Millennium Cell (MCEL) has demonstrated systems utilizing their technology known as Hydrogen on DemandTM (HODTM ) using BaBH4 (Sodium Borohydride) as a hydrogen storage medium at multiple levels ranging from 2 W up to 65kW. To meet long term mission applications, MCEL is developing a 30W power source for a 72-hour mission. With their safe and environmentally friendly chemistry, MCEL believes that with optimal design, its fuel cell will have multiples of Lithium-ion energy density in portable power source designs that fit the size and weight constraint of military applications.
There was a good cross section of vendors with about 44 companies participating in the trade show. Some of the exhibitors who provided batteries during the war with Iraq were present such as Ultralife, Brentronics, Saft, Cymbet Corporation, EaglePicher Technologies, and Electric Fuel, just to name a few.
Manufacturers of various chemistries were also represented such as: GNB Network Power (Lead-acid), Lithium Technology Corporation GAIA (Lithium-ion), and Electrovaya Corporation (Lithium-ion SuperPolymerR).
Various materials research-based companies such as T/J Technologies and several battery testing and charging companies such as Digitron/Firing Circuits also displayed their capabilities. Only two solar (photovoltaic) manufacturers exhibited - UNI-Solar and Tactical Solar. A small number of fuel cell and fuel cell component companies also participated.
The Umbrella -covering the conference
There is perhaps no other conference which has 150 state-of-the-art presentations based on what is happening in the world of power sources, from work in research and development to commercialized product introductions. Scientists, engineers and researchers find the conference a setting for sharing, dialoguing and enhancing their knowledge base.
Within the next several months, BD editors will cover more details of the presenations.