In 2004 the founder of INI Power Systems, Larry Markoski, found himself on a plane headed to RDU. In the seat next to him was Paul Nelsen, a long-time friend of Porticos’ co-founder and CTO Kevin Carpenter. Over the course of the flight, Larry and Paul chatted about work, and Larry confided a need for some engineering expertise to help launch a product. Paul mentioned the newly-founded Porticos, Inc., and a partnership was born.
An Initial Project
At that time INI Power Systems was focused on the development of direct methanol fuel cells. DMFC can convert alcohol directly into electricity without the need for high-temperature cracking of methanol into hydrogen. This meant a quiet and cool technology especially attractive to the US Department of Defense.
Porticos worked with INI to design their first working prototype, involved in every aspect of the device from the cutting-edge machined-carbon electrode block to tortuous fluid circuits. Porticos managed to fit everything into a custom package the size of a shoebox. Multiple tanks, pumps, compressors, PCBs, etc. were designed to maximize system performance while occupying an impressively small volume. It was the hit of the Fuel Cell 2006 trade show.
The device was a success as measured against both INI and DoD technical requirements. But by the time it was ready to deploy, the amount of electric power needed by soldiers had increased significantly.
That DMFC never saw service.
An Evolving Collaboration
A new approach was needed, and the DoD decided it would trade versatility for noise. INI proposed a small, conventional, gas-powered electric generator that would run on… anything. Pour any flammable liquid into the fuel tank and voilà: electric power. In principle, one can always scavenge something to make it run; jet fuel, vodka, or fingernail polish would do the job. Porticos worked with INI to figure out a fuel/air management system that would allow the new device to operate across such a wide range of fuels.
The DoD then asked if it might be adapted to run on a variety of compressed gasses similar to those used in backyard barbecues or backpacking. Porticos designed and built the UPAK as a proof-of-concept. It was so well-received that INI adopted the first iteration as a production design!
A few years later, INI decided to further reduce the size of that generator, with the idea of making it more portable; the goal was for it to be small enough to fit in a rucksack. This new requirement came with numerous engineering challenges, as miniaturization always does. The biggest issue turned out to be thermal. The amount of heat generated by the device varied, both by the fuel type and the environment in which it ran. Cooling solutions were required for various parts of the generator. Porticos’ efforts to resolve this were extensive and eventually successful.
A Continued Partnership
Over the years, Porticos and INI Power Systems have grown and evolved. In 2019, INI rebranded as TRIDEC Services, Inc. The company has continued to build products targeted to military, recreational, and utility applications. And Porticos has continued to support the TRIDEC engineers with expertise in gearing, vibrations, acoustics, and net-shape manufacturing. Porticos is happy to be able to partner with and support the innovation of the TRIDEC team.