Propane-Fed Genset to Provide Power on the Battlefield

DARPA's propane genset from
DARPA’s propane genset

We know that propane is used to propel cars and cook food, but provide our peacekeepers’ power requirements on the battlefield?

Well, today’s soldiers are more dependent on technology than ever.  They need an increasing array of gadgets to keep the peace and get the bad guys – from radios, to rangefinders, to night vision goggles, and even mobile phones.  So what do all of these have in common?  They all need batteries to provide them the power to run.

Now even if Lithium Ion batteries pack a lot of power in little packages, they still weigh a bit.  The standard Ultralife UBI-2590 battery, for example, weighs 3.17 lbs. (1.4 kgs) and packs 7.2 Ah.  But then, if you are going on a mission, you need to pack a lot of batteries, like a few dozen, which taken together weighs as much as another person.

Now imagine carrying the weight of another person in addition to your gun, c-rations and other gear in the heat of the desert mountains of Afghanistan, then you’re bound to get exhausted.  So what is an infantryman to do then?

DARPA has come up with a solution – give the soldiers a way to recharge their devices in the field with a portable and quiet generator.   And this is where propane comes in, it’s the fuel of choice to run this new device.

Propane packs more energy per kilogram than batteries can.  Because of this, you can lug along the 11 lb (5 kg) generator with a 20 lb (9.1 kg) tank of propane and it will give enough juice equivalent to a hundred battery packs that weigh a total of 317 lbs (144 kgs)!

So why didn’t they think of this before?  Well, they did except that previous generators were too noisy for clandestine operations.  This generator is so quiet that you might forget that it’s even on, which is especially handy if you’re spying on the enemy or on reconnaissance or protecting a position.

So you have a light and quiet generator that runs on propane, so what now?  Well, for one thing you can find ways to reduce further the power requirements of your devices.  Then we can work on making uniforms from solar cells.

That way, we don’t just save the lives of our nation’s defenders, we also defend the environment at the same time.


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