DoD Scientist of the Quarter

Dr. Tony Thampan, Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center

Tony Thampan, PhD, was recently named Department of Defense Scientist of the Quarter for   his accomplishments in soldier power systems, particularly in developing a wearable fuel cell system that improves soldiers’ power efficiency while reducing the load they have to carry.  

“The leadership and innovation shown by Dr. Thampan on wearable fuel cell systems has resulted in substantial advancements in these state of the art technologies,” said Henry Muller, CERDEC director. “It is anticipated that his accomplishments will play a key role in providing the Soldier with lighter power sources with increased capabilities.”

Dr. Tony Thampan displays flexible fuel cell. Photo by Allison Barrow, U.S. Army CERDEC

Thampan began his career with CERDEC in 2011 after working for several years in the industrial gas industry. He has a PhD in chemical engineering and also developed new electrolytes for automotive fuel cells for a start-up company. At CERDEC, he began by developing small power systems in the lab for CERDEC’s Command, Power and Integration Directorate, and progressed into wearable power systems with a focus on wearable fuel cells.

Thampan modeled, designed, and developed a Soldier wearable power system that can cut a soldier’s weight burden by up to four times. He did this by using a fuel cell membrane made of Aluminum hydride, or AlH3, which provides a better energy density than the common Li-on battery used today.

The wearable power system powers individual Soldier devices or all of a soldier’s ensemble devices – such as worn radios and end user devices – through a power distribution system. It consists of a power unit with an internal starting battery, fuel gauge and fuel cartridges.

The system is flexible and can be worn in a pouch on the side of a soldier’s vest. It has passed government ballistic testing requirements and is rated safe for soldier’s to wear.

“Because the Army wants to provide information all the way down to the soldier-level, the communications equipment is sucking up more power. With this technology, we can enable more capability, because we have technology that can provide power, without adding extra weight. So that’s pretty exciting, because it enables more situational awareness,” Thampan said.

The system was tested for user feedback during CERDEC’s C4ISR Ground Activity Event 15 this summer, and has been endorsed for transition to Project Manager Soldier Warrior under Program Executive Office Soldier.

Thampan’s research has also led to Alane based fuel cells being investigated and developed for other DOD applications as well.

“It’s great, because we’re really trying to push the boundary of technology and new solutions and we have the greatest users in the world,” Thampan said. “You get to really use your skill set to develop technologies that can be deployed and have meaningful use. The big driver for me is that there’s some end use that’s helpful.”

Dr. Thampan has published 14 journal articles and has two published patents.

Related News:

Wearable fuels cells shown to slash Soldier weight

Video – Flexible Fuel Cell