Daniel Sieberg interviews Dr. Cynthia Lundgren, chief of the Electrochemistry Branch in the Sensors and Electron Devices Directorate at the Army Research Laboratory in Adelphi, Md.
Lundgren takes us on a tour of her lab, describing an experiment where a scientist is working to extract sulfur from a chemical compound at room temperature, using synthetic compounds, something she says is very hard to do. In another experiment, a researcher is working to purify gas streams to go into a fuel cell, working to develop materials that will extract hydrogen to power fuel cells.
She demonstrates equipment that measures the speed of a reaction using electrodes. It's used to determine which is the best chemical or compound to use to extract different types of fuel that would be used to power a fuel cell.
Lundgren says her research is funded through the Department of Energy and customers within the government that benefit from it, but it doesn't get any money from private companies. She says it's all published in open, peer-reviewed literature. The lab looks at different types of fuel cells, powered by different fuel sources. She says she has gotten direct feedback from soldiers in the field. They have expressed concerns about using flammable fuel, but she hopes they can learn to accept it when they learn how useful it is.
Lundgren then describes a fuel cell powered by methanol and the research her lab performed on it. The cell is designed to charge batteries for radios or night vision goggles, taking the place of three conventional batteries of the same size.
She then demonstrates a fuel cell that catalyzes methanol using just a few drops to power a small fan for about 11 hours. She says it demonstrates how simple a fuel cell can be, using fuel, air and a catalyst with no moving parts.
Lundgren says fuel cells and other electrochemical devices are scalable, although larger ones have some limitations on power output. Some that can be designed to power whole communities are the size of a room. She says the Department of Energy is working on a design that uses coal to power fuel cells. Her lab works with cells that would be portable or mobile.