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Research aims to lighten load carried by soldiers

A University of California, Riverside Bourns College of Engineering professor and a team of researchers nationwide were recently awarded a five-year, $6.25 million grant to develop a greener, lighter-weight and longer-lasting power source for soldiers increasingly reliant on electronic devices.

Yushan Yan, professor and chair of the UCR department of environmental and chemical engineering, and researchers from the Colorado School of Mines, University of Massachusetts, Amherst and University of Chicago, received the grant to study the possibility of replacing batteries with fuel cells.

The research is funded by the Department of Defense under the Multidisciplinary University Initiative program. Yan's portion of the grant is $875,000.

Currently, soldiers carry up to 30 pounds of batteries for a mission of 72 hours to power everything from night-vision goggles to GPS devices.

The research by Yan and the other scientists could lead to the development of fuel cells that would be up to 80 percent lighter than batteries. The fuel cells could also increase the life of devices in the field by up to five times, Yan said.

Small, portable methanol fuel cells exist today, but they require the use expensive metal catalysts, such as platinum. The researchers aim to develop a new class of ion conducting polymer membranes that would eliminate the need for expensive metal catalysts.

While the research is being funded by the military, it could provide the groundwork for fuel cell advances in other industries, particularly transportation, said Yan, who has been studying fuel cells since 1999, a year after he was hired by UCR.

In addition to fuel cells, Yan also studies zeolite, a microporous mineral widely used for water purification, as a catalyst in petroleum refining and in the production of laundry detergents.

Yan was recently honored for that research when he was presented with the 2010 Donald W. Breck Award by the International Zeolite Association at the 16th International Zeolite Conference in July in Sorrento, Italy.


Contact: Sean Nealon
University of California - Riverside

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