Hydrogen-fueled rig pushing boundaries
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.