The U.S. military owns more stuff on wheels than any other single entity on the planet, and in the future more of those vehicles will be less reliant on fossil fuels. The latest maneuver is a test run of hydrogen fuel cells for the venerable Abrams tank. The Army has a prototype under development in the lab, with the goal of providing electricity to power up the growing amount of radios, computers, and other electronic equipment aboard the Abrams.
Despite the calls for more oil drilling from some quarters, the U.S. military has been trying hard to move the country away from all forms of fossil fuel for a number of years now. Military research into alternative fuel vehicles picked up speed last year with the construction of the new 30,000 square foot Ground System Power and Energy Laboratory. The facility is strategically located in the Detroit area, the better to coordinate its work with the civilian market.
The U.S. Military and Fuel Cells
Fuel cells generate electricity through a chemical reaction that occurs when hydrogen atoms break down. The Army’s current research involves converting diesel fuel into hydrogen, which isn’t exactly the most sustainable way to go but it’s a start. More sustainable sources of hydrogen are in development, and for that matter fuel cell technology has already spread beyond hydrogen to include microbial fuel cells that generate an electrical current through the biological functions of microorganisms that can use seawater, mud, and even sewage to live on.
Sustainable Heavy Vehicles
The consumer market for electric vehicles will be dominated by small lightweight passenger cars, but as the Army’s research demonstrates, fuel cells and sustainable electricity are on the horizon for working vehicles of all kinds. To help push the market forward, last fall the Army co-hosted a forum for hybrid truck users in Atlanta. The Army is also testing diesel-electric hybrid technology on a reconnaissance vehicle, and not to be outdone the U.S. Navy launched its first hybrid electric assault ship last year. On the civilian side, Caterpillar recently introduced its first diesel electric hybrid tractor, and given the company’s focus on sustainability there is probably going to be more where that came from.
Image: Abrams Tank night exercise on flickr.com courtesy of U.S. Army via Nevada Tumbleweed.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.