Prof Richard Haverkamp, of Massey University, gives an overview of how fuel cells work, and why he is looking into a potential military application.
DR RICHARD HAVERKAMP
Fuel cells are a – they’re like a little battery so they give out electricity as a result of a chemical reaction. But unlike a battery which will go flat with time, and you either have to recharge it or buy a new battery depending on the type, a fuel cells you’re constantly feeding in fuel so it’s the type of material you can normally burn – that’s why they’re called fuel cells. So as long as you are topping them up with fuel they’ll keep giving out electricity.
Now where the military and the Air Force are interested in fuel cells is that if you're out in the middle of a desert or in some war zone, and you've got your electronic device with a battery in it and the battery runs flat and you want to recharge, there’s not any - there’s usually not a charging outlet where you can plug it into. So the idea would be, what if we can have a battery that we can easily top up to recharge it and so you could get fuel cells running on for example methanol. So when you're battery is flat or your fuel cell is flat you just pour a little bit more methanol in it and away it goes again. And you can get a lot of energy in a bottle of methanol. So we were contracted to look at making a catalyst by new methods and hopefully a better catalyst that could be used in this application.
Dr Aaron Marshall
US Staff Sgt. JoAnn S. Makinano