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20/06/2012
Sagem, CEA and Bic win 2012 IGA Chanson prizefor a new portable fuel cell
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Paris, Eurosatory exhibition, June 13, 2012

 

During the Eurosatory 2012 international defense show and exhibition, General Bertrand Ract-Madoux, French army Chief of Staff, awarded the 39th IGA (Ingénieur Général de l'Armement) Chanson prize to teams from Sagem (Safran group), the CEA's Liten lab and the company Bic, for their work on a fuel cell for the FELIN program (1), under a basic research contract from French defense procurement agency DGA.

 

Developed by the three partners, this portable energy source will replace FELIN's lithium-ion batteries, reducing the weight carried by infantry soldiers. The fuel cell technology they developed supplies specific energy density of about 300 Wh/kg, a three-fold increase over current batteries.

 

The Liten lab, part of French atomic energy commission CEA, contributes its expertise in fuel cells, while Bic offers its know-how in miniaturized energy storage devices for the consumer market.

 

As prime contractor for the FELIN program, Sagem is the designer of its energy system, and for this project it is responsible for the fuel cell electronic control and management circuit.

 

The technological breakthrough by the three partners will help meet the energy challenge faced by today's infantry units, which now make widespread use of electronic devices. The FELIN system for infantry soldiers already contributes to this goal because of its architecture based on a sole energy source and optimized energy management, which facilitates the integration of this new fuel cell.

 

The fuel cell is based on PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) technology. It uses gaseous hydrogen as a fuel, produced from sodium borohydride and water in a disposable cartridge, producing 120 Wh for a weight of 300 grams. Once used it can quickly be replaced, with a buffer battery providing electricity during the transition.

 

Sodium borohydride is a moderately priced substance that offers significant advantages over the methanol used today, in terms of handling, safety and environmental protection. Furthermore, the fuel cell becomes more advantageous the longer it has to be used autonomously, because soldiers only need to carry extra cartridges. Several prototypes have already been successfully tested, including in field trials, and deliver average power of 12 watts, compatible with the FELIN system's needs.

 

Furthermore, this new technology could also meet requirements for portable optronics, radios, mini-robots, drones and remote sensors, and help spur the emergence of a new industry based on a dual-use (civil-military) technology.

 

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(1) FELIN is an integrated equipment suite for the French soldier modernization program, which provides for the delivery of 22,600 systems to the French army. It has been in service with the army since September 2010, and was deployed in Afghanistan starting in December 2011.