The military has been looking at alternative fuels like this because of the difficulty, expense and danger of securing oil and gasoline supplies.
Hydrogen fuel cells, in particular, seem promising because of their design flexibility, said Major General Roger Matthews, Deputy Commanding General of the U.S. Army Pacific.
Unlike an ordinary car’s engine and transmission, fuel cells and batteries can take various shapes and be arranged inside the vehicle in a number of different ways.
For now, the U.S. is testing a fleet of 16 General Motors fuel cell vehicles in Hawaii. They run on compressed hydrogen gas. The hydrogen is combined in a fuel cell with oxygen from the air in a process that generates electricity. The only exhaust the vehicles produce is water vapor.
This new fleet includes one vehicle that can be used as a portable generator, supplying enough energy to keep the lights on in several homes. The same technology could be useful in an “tactical” vehicle, said Matthews, providing power to a command center, for instance.
The 16 vehicles in the test fleet are distributed across various branches of the military, including the Army, Air Force and Navy. They are being used as “administrative” vehicles, performing light-duty work such as ferrying around personnel.
The military spends roughly $3.6 million a year to lease the fleet of from GM, said Major General Roger Matthews, Deputy Commanding General of the U.S. Army Pacific.
Their biggest advantage over electric cars is that it takes much less time — usually just a few minutes — to pump a tank full of hydrogen than it does to charge a large battery.
For now, hydrogen fuel cell technology remains expensive. But Matthews says the only way to reduce the cost is to invest in more research projects like this. The development of fuel cell vehicles and an associated transportation infrastructure on which new military and civilian fleets can be tested and employed will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and help move our state and country forward,” said Inouye. “Hawaii is uniquely situated to benefit from the shift toward electric and fuel cell vehicles.