Australian defence teams may soon be getting their energy supply in the field from a silent portable unit based on a hydrogen fuel cell.
RMIT University is the lead agency in the research, which will receive $1.6 million in funding over two years.
The portable power supply under development through the project can recharge its own hydrogen store using local solar energy.
RMIT's proposal to develop and demonstrate the technology is being funded through the Department of Defence's Capability Technology Demonstrator (CTD) program.
Other research organisations involved are the UNSW School of Materials Science, CSIRO Process Science and Engineering and the Defence Science and Technology Organisation.
Industry participants include Ultra Electronics (Adelaide), MTM Controls (Melbourne), CST Composites (Sydney) and Hydrexia (Brisbane).
Associate Professor John Andrews, from the RMIT School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, is leading the project.
Associate Professor Andrews said the key advantages of the technology over diesel generators were the much lower acoustic and thermal signatures, a reduced dependence on petroleum fuels and zero greenhouse emissions.
"The new system will be both lighter and smaller than equivalent lithium ion batteries," he said.
"This is the next big step in our team's ongoing research program into renewable-energy hydrogen systems that began over eight years ago.
Co-leader, Professor Chun Wang, Director of RMIT's Sir Lawrence Wackett Aerospace Centre, said the portable hydrogen-based fuel supply would support a wide range of defence-related applications, from power supply for forward operating bases and mobile units, to units involved in peace-keeping and emergency relief.
"Key innovations are that the fuel cells can generate electricity from hydrogen and recharge hydrogen storage from renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, and they use tailored lightweight metal hydride storages," he said.
The RMIT work on reversible fuel cells previously received a seed funding grant from the Defence Materials and Technology Centre and the Victorian Defence Science Institute.
The project is one of only seven to receive funding in this year's CTD program, out of more than 70 submissions.
Work is expected to start in the second half of this year.
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