Friday, December 9, 2011

USC and EngenuitySC Lead $3.6 Million Initiative to Empower Soldiers in Battle with Fuel Cells

Dr. Jochen Lauterbach
Greg Hilton

The University of South Carolina’s newest endowed chair, Dr. Jochen Lauterbach, is changing the way the military powers itself. Dr. Lauterbach’s team is working to identify and test catalysts for fuel cells that, when paired with a reformer system, will enable the military to produce propane from JP-8 and feed it into fuel cells that will power everything from communications equipment to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).  

Lauterbach and EngenuitySC teamed up over the year to lead a $3.6 million Department of Defense research project to help unlock the energy in JP-8, an energy-dense fuel with superior performance characteristics over batteries and other alternatives. The military is exploring how reformed JP-8 can be used to power fuel cell technologies in forward combat zones rather than transporting pure propane or other, highly combustible carbon-based fuels.

“The challenge is that these soldiers often times find themselves in areas where traditional supply lines cannot be established. Batteries don’t provide the performance that soldiers need and they can’t get other types of fuels into the field as easily,” said Gregory Hilton, Senior Program Manager for EngenuitySC. He and 3 principal investigators from the University of South Carolina , Dr. Kenneth Reifsneider, Dr. Brian Benicewicz, and Dr. Jochen Lauterbach, were charged with leading the research project.

“The University of South Carolina is quickly gaining a reputation as not only a world class energy-oriented research institute, but a place that provides real solutions for real world problems,” he said of the University and its team. “This is the true value of investing in a research and innovation-oriented economy.”

EngenuitySC sat down with Dr. Lauterbach to discuss the project, its importance to the military, and how their results could change the way the world sees South Carolina:

EngenuitySC: Why is DARPA interested in funding research for fuel cells and JP-8?

Jochen Lauterbach: It can provide much higher flexibility for the widespread deployment of fuel cell systems. I will allow fuel cells to run off widely available fuels and the military could reply on existing supply chains for jet fuel rather than building new supply chains for hydrogen ,methanol, or LPG.

ESC: What made the University of South Carolina team so unique.

JL: Our team is one of the few academic groups that develop and employ high-throughput methodologies for the discovery of novel catalytic materials. This allows us to very quickly respond to new challenges and develop promising leads in a very efficient way.

ESC: What real world problems do you hope to solve with this project?

JL: This project will provide a solution for sulfur tolerant fuel reforming catalysts. The application is not only limited to producing fuel cell feed from jetfuel, but has also potential applications for the production of liquefied petroleum gas from other hydrocarbon fuels, such as diesel and biofuels.

ESC: Why do you believe that it is critical for South Carolina to continue to invest in education and research?

JL: Since the 1980s, the US job market has become polarized between high-skilled, high-wage jobs and low-wage, low-skilled jobs. At the lower end of the labor market, wages have stagnated or declined, and that is certainly something we see here in South Carolina. South Carolina’s competitiveness and our energy future are intimately connected and provide our state with a tremendous opportunity, but we need to act now!

There is a strong need for new sources of energy that do not constrain out foreign policy objectives nor imperil our planet, but to achieve this, we need very significant breakthroughs in energy innovation. This problem poses a huge opportunity for the countries, firms, and workers that can provide a solution, who will produce new industries and jobs, and who could be an important part of strengthening future competitiveness of South Carolina. 

In order to be leaders in innovation, however, we need a well-educated workforce, and the United States is clearly falling behind. While we we continue to discuss what we should do, many places across the would are actively investing in education, energy research, and manufacturing of new technologies.

Content produced and published by EngenuitySC. Please send comments, questions, or inquiries to Frank Avery at or 803.354.5720.
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