Hy­dro­gen-fu­eled rig push­ing bound­aries

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Tom Roeder

FORT CAR­SON» On the out­side, it looks like a sporty ver­sion of a mid­size Chevro­let pickup.

But the Army has lit­tle in­ter­est in its cam­ou­flagechic paint job or its cus­tom wheels. The Army wants what’s un­der the hood. It is not a mo­tor.

Meet the hy­dro­gen­pow­ered ZH-2, an ex­per­i­men­tal truck built by Gen­eral Mo­tors and re­cently tested by the Army at Fort Car­son. It has no pis­tons, no cylin­ders. In­stead it has a space-age fuel cell crammed un­der the hood that turns pure hy­dro­gen into elec­tric­ity to run the rig and wa­ter va­por that surges out its ex­haust.

“One of the things you no­tice is how quiet it is,” GM’s Chris Colquitt, the lead en­gi­neer be­hind the truck said last week as the ZH-2 qui­etly whirred be­hind him.

The fuel cell has es­sen­tially no mov­ing parts. It works like a bat­tery that never runs flat be­cause a con­stant flow of hy­dro­gen and at­mo­spheric oxy­gen keeps the juice flow­ing.

The Army has long cov­eted the tech­nol­ogy be­cause it brings a com­bi­na­tion of des­per­ately needed fuel ef­fi­ciency and near-silent op­er­a­tion to the bat­tle­field.

The Amer­i­can mil­i­tary is the world’s largest con­sumer of diesel fuel, run­ning up a tab at the pump as high as $13 bil­lion per year. In bat­tle, fuel costs go up as­tro­nom­i­cally. Pen­tagon of­fi­cials told congress in 2009 that diesel fuel at re­mote lo­ca­tions in Afghanistan runs more than $400 per gal­lon when trans­porta­tion costs are added in.

Brian Butrico, an Army en­gi­neer over­see­ing the ZH-2 said the fuel cell sips fuel at less than half the rate of a Humvee. And un­like Army trucks that guz­zle fuel while idling, the fuel cell shuts down.

“The feed­back is pos­i­tive so far,” he said.

To go along with the truck, Butrico’s col­leagues at the Army Tank and Au­to­mo­tive Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Cen­ter in Michi­gan are build­ing a “re­former” that can pro­duce the hy­dro­gen by re­fin­ing other eas­ily avail­able fu­els.

The hy­dro­gen-maker will be about the size of an Army trailer and could be hauled straight to the bat­tle­field to fuel next-gen­er­a­tion rigs.

One of the mil­i­tary’s big­gest gas-guz­zlers over­seas is the gen­er­a­tor. At the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Army gen­er­a­tors at for­ward bases con­verted 357 million gal­lons of diesel into elec­tric­ity and ear­split­ting noise each year.

In Bagh­dad, sol­diers could de­ter­mine their prox­im­ity to an Amer­i­can base by lis­ten­ing for the gen­er­a­tors.

A fuel cell could kill the noise and cut the fuel con­sump­tion by half or more, the Army es­ti­mates.

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