General Motors recently announced that its fuel-cell engineering team is working with TARDEC (the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development & Engineering Center) to develop a prototype pickup truck with a commercial hydrogen fuel-cell powertrain that is capable of meeting U.S. military duty cycles. The vehicle will be put into daily use and driven by soldiers for 12 months.
A Chevrolet Colorado is being converted to a fuel-cell vehicle (FCV) powered by a commercial hydrogen fuel-cell propulsion system. While the two organizations provided no details of the system, it is believed to be a higher-output variant of GM's fourth-generation fuel-cell stack similar to those used in the automaker’s fleet of 100 Chevrolet Equinox FCVs.
That system, proven by about 5000 consumers in over 3 million mi (4.8 million km) of real-world testing in the Equinoxes, features a 97-hp (72-kW) electric motor with 236 lb·ft (320 N·m), with three spiral-wound cylindrical pressure tanks capable of storing up to 9 lb (4 kg) of hydrogen—good for 200-mi (322-km) range at 10,000 psi (690 bar). While the Equinox fleet used NiMH batteries, the military Colorado FCV is expected to use a pack based on Li-ion cell chemistry.
"Hydrogen fuel-cell technology is important to GM’s advanced propulsion portfolio, and this enables us to put our technology to the test in a vehicle that will face punishing military duty cycles,” Charlie Freese, Executive Director of GM’s Global Fuel Cell Engineering activities, said in a statement.
Fuel-cell powertrains offer excellent low-speed torque that military vehicle experts say is useful in off-road environments. They also deliver quiet operation and can be used as a mobile power generator, making them attractive for both military and commercial applications. They also have a far lower heat signature than combustion-engine vehicles, so they’re less vulnerable to heat-based target acquisition systems. And their only emission is water vapor—a byproduct that is useful in long-range desert operations.
"The potential capabilities hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles can bring to the ‘warfighter’ are extraordinary,” observed Paul Rogers, the TARDEC Director. He said his organization’s engineers and scientists “are excited about the opportunity to exercise the limits of this demonstrator.”
GM since 2011 has been involved with a U.S. Navy program in which an Equinox proton-exchange membrane (PEM) type fuel-cell stack powers an unmanned midget submarine, called a UUV (see http://articles.sae.org/13909/).The UUV is being tested in open-water environments. The U.S. government pays GM for its technical contribution to the program.
GM and TARDEC have fuel-cell R&D facilities located in Pontiac and Warren, MI, respectively. The two collaborate to evaluate new fuel-cell designs and materials, and TARDEC’s facility enables it to test and integrate fuel-cell systems it has been developing for more than a decade.