Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, in partnership with the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, developed a Direct Methanol Fuel Cell technology for future Department of Defense and commercial applications. Recently, USC and the California Institute of Technology, which manages JPL, awarded a license to SFC Energy, the U.S. affiliate of SFC Energy AG. The non-exclusive license for the technology will facilitate the expansion of the company’s methanol fuel cell products into the U.S. market.

NASA JPL scientists originally developed this 300-watt engineering prototype of a Direct Methanol Fuel Cell system for defense applications. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
The fuel cell technology uses liquid methanol as a fuel to produce electrical energy, and does not require any fuel processing. Pure water and carbon dioxide are the only byproducts of the fuel cell, and no pollutants are emitted. Direct Methanol Fuel Cells offer several advantages over other current fuel cell systems, especially with regard to simplicity of design and higher energy density. Current systems rely on hydrogen gas, a substance that is more difficult to transport and store.

According to JPL Power Technology Program Manager Rao Surampudi, “JPL invented the Direct Methanol Fuel Cell concept, and also made significant contributions to all the facets of the technology. These contributions include development of advanced catalyst materials, high-performance fuel cell membrane electrode assemblies, compact fuel cell stacks, and system designs.” USC worked with JPL in the development and advancement of this technology for defense and commercial applications.

Over the years, those applications have expanded from the original defense applications to include such uses as battery chargers for consumer electronics, electric vehicles, standalone power systems, and uninterrupted/emergency power supplies.

The Caltech and NASA technology transfer programs are designed to help U.S. companies improve their competitive positions in the global economy by transferring JPL technology into the marketplace. For more information, visit www.ott.caltech.edu.

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