MIT professor reaches out to ARL to collaborate on research

June 15, 2018

By ARL Public Affairs

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (June 15, 2018) - A professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology met recently with several Army researchers to discuss potential collaboration amongst the university's scientists and those at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory on new approaches towards energy independence and synthesis of critical materials with an emphasis on production at the point-of-need.

As part of ARL's Open Campus, the laboratory, with its main laboratories in Maryland, established regional presences in California, Texas, Illinois and most recently, Massachusetts. ARL Northeast opened its doors this spring at the George J. Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security at Northeastern University near Boston.

Dr. Karthish Manthiram, assistant professor at MIT's Department of Chemical Engineering provided ARL researchers recent findings on the development of a synthetic toolkit in which distributed feedstocks, including air, water and point sources of carbon dioxide, can be locally converted into diverse fuels, chemicals and materials by using renewable electricity and how this research directly impacts military interests.

"The production and distribution of fuels for readiness, communication and maneuverability comes at an immense cost to all branches of the military," said Dr. Pablo E. Guzmán, synthesis chemist at ARL. "Moreover, the transport of fuels poses significant logistical and security challenges to our Warfighters."

Our Nation's security of tomorrow is based on readiness of our Soldiers today and their ability to be self-sufficient within the complex environment we operate in, said Command Sgt. Maj. Frank Gutierrez, at the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, who attended the presentation.

"As we combine the science of additive manufacturing to the MIT lead research in alternative fuels, we have the possibility to create a force multiplier that's never been seen before in our military's history -- the ability for our Soldiers to manufacture their own fuel in a deployed or field environment," he said.

Guzmán said transportation and distribution of fuels is a high-risk operation.

"It is our sole mission to equip our Soldiers with the best technology possible to keep them out of harm's way and make it back home," he said. "Electrosynthetic methods have the potential to alleviate and address several concerns and improve overmatch."

Currently, fuels such as JP-8 are transported to the frontlines of battle at immense risk and with large logistical complexity.

An alternative model would involve producing these supplies on-site and on-demand. Thereby reducing, and in the most optimal of circumstances, circumventing challenges related to distribution and simultaneously improving operational resilience.

"The same technology can be extended towards producing plastics as well, enabling local generation of feedstocks for 3-D printers," said Manthiram, whose laboratory focuses on the design of catalysts driven by electricity that can facilitate the necessary bond breaking and forming steps needed to make these fuels and plastics.

"Currently, most of the chemicals, fuels and materials used in military operations are derived through thermochemical routes that require the use of high temperatures and pressures," Guzmán said. "Electrochemical synthetic methods, are capable of having unique reactivity profiles that can efficiently access reaction manifolds, at ambient temperatures and pressures, which is in stark contrast to traditional thermochemical methods."

The technologies at Manthiram's lab have potential to facilitate the design of small-scale, modular production processes that can significantly expand and improve tactical capabilities, said Guzmán.

"The electro-chemistry research being conducted by MIT in conjunction with our own ARL has the potential to be a true game changer for our U.S. Military," Gutierrez said.


The U.S. Army Research Laboratory is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.

 

Last Update / Reviewed: June 15, 2018