Professors Sullivan and O’Hayre win two new Small Business Innovative Research Programs with industrial partner Adaptive Energy

Professors Sullivan and O’Hayre win two new Small Business Innovative Research Programs with industrial partner Adaptive Energy

Professors Neal Sullivan and Ryan O’Hayre received notice of two new research and development awards in partnership with fuel-cell developer Adaptive Energy of Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Both are Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) programs supported by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), and focus on developing next-generation, high-efficiency fuel cells for military applications (Figure 1). The two awards mark the second and third DoD programs secured by the Mines – Adaptive team in the past six months.

Figure 1: Military drone during soldier-assisted lift off [1]. Mines and industrial partner Adaptive Energy are developing long-duration fuel cells that extend drone time in the air.

Over the past decade, Mines researchers have been making advancements on new proton-conducting ceramic materials for electricity generation, hydrogen production, and energy storage. These protonic-ceramic materials outperform the state-of-the-art, but have not advanced beyond the lab. The Mines – Adaptive partnership seeks to expand protonic ceramics from the lab into the field.

Adaptive’s fuel cells convert the chemical energy of readily available propane into electricity. The electricity powers military devices such as airborne and underwater drones. With high efficiency, fuel cells produce more electricity per pound of propane than competing military generators. This extends mission duration between refuels for powering U.S. forces.

In the Phase I SBIR program, the Mines – Adaptive team is developing high-power-density, micro-tubular fuel cells to meet the low-weight requirements of aerial drones. The program also targets “reversible” charge-and-discharge operation, where fuel is produced in one mode and electricity is produced in the other. The Phase II award targets a ~ 300-W portable fuel cell to support ground forces (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Portable fuel cell generator supports field communications and logistics. [2]

The programs are led by Professor Ryan O’Hayre of the Metallurgical and Materials Engineering Department, and Associate Professor Neal Sullivan of Mechanical Engineering. The professors harness capabilities across two highly productive Mines research centers, the Center for Advanced Ceramics (CCAC) and the Colorado Fuel Cell Center (CFCC). These protonic-ceramics programs build on previous Mines research funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, including the ARPA-E REBELS and REFUEL programs, a NASA program for fuels synthesis on Mars, and more.




[1]        Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., “Army buys 9,000 mini-drones, rethinks ground robots,” Breaking Defense, June 17, 2019.

[2]        Peter Podesser, “Portable power management for soldiers: Fuel cell hybrid system is lighter, safer,” Military Embedded Systems, May 16, 2009.