September 10, 2019


A Rocket-Fuel Additive Could Be the Next Great Power Breakthrough (PATRICK TUCKER, SEPTEMBER 9, 2019, Defense One)

Enter aluminum hydride -- also AIH3 or Alane -- a combination of three hydrogen atoms and one aluminum atom originally developed in the 1970s as a potential additive to rocket fuel. Looking a lot like baby powder, it's much easier to transport and use than compressed gaseous or liquid hydrogen. The energy density is also far greater. Kristopher Lichter, CEO of San Francisco-based Ardica Technologies, which makes fuel cells that run on Alane, describes it as "four times as energy dense as gaseous hydrogen...but [with] none of the problems handling." It doesn't require special tanker trucks or pipelines. Instead, the powder goes into a cartridge, which when heated in a fuel cell, releases gaseous hydrogen for use in generating electricity.

If you have a handful of Alane, you're effectively holding much more energy than you would have in a compressed gas tank (see chart below).  But, says Lichter, "The difference is much bigger than that. It's much more stark because Alane is so lightweight that when I put it into a cartridge, you can't tell whether that cartridge is empty or full of Alane because the Alane itself is so ridiculously light, that all you're feeling is the aluminum cartridge itself that it contains it."

Ardica is teaming up with the U.S. Army to develop portable power for soldiers. They have a 20-watt wearable soldier power system that's been field-tested in Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiments. "Assuming things go according to plan, that effort is going into production soon," said Lichter.

They are also working on a 300-watt generator, with prototypes expected in six months.

The Army is also looking to use in future vehicles, and is offering funding via phase-II Small Business Innovation Research grants.

"We're looking to scale up what they are doing with that soldier-portable stuff up to a ground vehicle requirement. So its increasing the scale of their cartridge by over 15 times," said Kevin Centeck, head of fuel cell technologies for the Army's Ground Vehicles Systems Center, or GVSC. "That will enable us to put enough energy onboard a vehicle without using bulky distribution tanks...There's excitement in that in that we can transport it much easier. We can fit more energy onboard a vehicle."

Posted by at September 10, 2019 12:00 AM