Print 40 comment(s) - last by JediJeb.. on Jul 14 at 5:17 PM

  (Source: Elite Nomads)
Army looks for ways to use fuel cells with non-petroleum sources

The United States Army has started the development and application of hydrogen fuel-cell technology to their vehicles. The first vehicle to receive this technology will be the workhorse M1 Abrams battle tank. This type of tank requires vast amounts of onboard computing power for sensors, computing equipment, battle command technology and other electronic equipment, so using fuel cell technology would be able to provide greater electrical power than the current setup, which is a diesel engine/alternator arrangement. 

In addition, the use of a fuel cell would make the tank's motor run in near silence. This is a particularly helpful feature since enemy combatants can hear the current model's 1,000+hp multi fuel turbine engine from miles away, and with a silent engine, the tank can sneak into certain territory relatively unheard. 

The use of a fuel cell would be convenient as well because the hydrogen would be extracted from JP-8 diesel fuel onboard and converted into electricity, meaning that "the current refueling infrastructure would remain in place." 

As of now, the testing of fuel cells in tanks exists only in the laboratory. The idea is to find a way to power multiple fleets of military vehicles with fuel cells "that use non-petroleum sources." There have been problems with having to deliver fuel through dangerous war zones and across two large countries. Providing security for the transport vehicles to assure that they get to the desired destination in order to fuel the tanks has become more than a thorn in their side, and fuel cell technology could possibly eliminate these worries. 

This isn't the Army's first effort toward greener technology, though. In May of this year, HP was in the process of developing a "Dick Tracy-like" watch that uses solar panels for the U.S. military. Also, a new hybrid Army aircraft that resembles a blimp and can travel for three weeks at a time unmanned, was designed and will be sent to Afghanistan by mid 2011. 


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Efficiency of fuel cells with diesel?
By Connoisseur on 7/13/2010 11:18:46 AM , Rating: 1
I wonder if someone can enlighten me as to the efficiency of these powerplants. All the fuel cells I hear of for civilian consumption are fed by direct hydrogen. Wouldn't it significantly decrease efficiency if the fuel cell has to extract the hydrogen from the hydrocarbon chains first?

RE: Efficiency of fuel cells with diesel?
By AssBall on 7/13/2010 11:28:18 AM , Rating: 5
You'd also need a HUGE and really heavy fuel cell to get anywhere near the sustained wattage you can get out of the alternator. This sounds like a remote fairy tale for now. not something imminently likely.

RE: Efficiency of fuel cells with diesel?
By MozeeToby on 7/13/2010 12:04:27 PM , Rating: 3
Is the diesel engine that powers the alternator the same as the engine that mechanically powers the tank? I was under the impression that the M1 had a gas turbine engine as the main engine. The fact that M1's run on JP-8 these days rather than diesel makes it seem to me that this must be a separate system.

So you're talking about replacing a complex electromechanical system (basically a big diesel generator) with a relatively simple (if currently experimental) solid state device. It'd be like removing a Hummer's worth of complexity from the system and replacing it with a giant battery.

By RjBass on 7/13/2010 1:02:33 PM , Rating: 5
The M1's engine can receive several different types of fuel. When I was stationed at Ft. Riley our tanks used JP8, but when I went to Mississippi for a mission their tanks used diesel, and I had heard that Kuwait was using standard unleaded in theirs, although I can't confirm that. And to answer your question, its the same power train for both the alternator and the rest of the vehicle.

RE: Efficiency of fuel cells with diesel?
By Ammohunt on 7/13/2010 2:19:11 PM , Rating: 2
The M1 has a turbine engine(read jet engine) JP-8 and Diesel are pretty much the same fuel.

RE: Efficiency of fuel cells with diesel?
By knutjb on 7/13/2010 3:29:11 PM , Rating: 4
Turbines can be tuned to run on the widest variety of fuels. Power plants frequently use natural gas. I have seen turbines run on alcohol, gasoline, NG, diesel, kerosene, a wide variety of jet fuels. B-36s had booster jets on the wing tips running on av gas. If its a liquid or it can be vaporized and it burns, a turbine will run on it.

The most likely reason to run JP8 is that aircraft use it so its plentiful, it runs much cleaner than diesel fuel, doesn't gel easily, doesn't smell so strong once burnt, isn't very smokey, and likely helps the turbine live longer.

By JediJeb on 7/14/2010 2:27:43 PM , Rating: 2
Even when my Dad was in the Army in the late 60s they had multi-fuel engines in the 2 1/2 ton trucks that would run on gasoline, diesel, kerosene, jet fuel, or just about anything else. I believe it was and engine that was mainly diesel in style but I think lower in compression so it would take the gasoline. The military has been using multi-fuel tech for decades because it allows you to stay mobile with any fuel you can grab at the moment.

By Shining Arcanine on 7/13/2010 11:53:05 PM , Rating: 3
A gas turbine engine can run off any fossil fuel, not just diesel/JP-8. You could use olive oil as fuel if you wanted to use it.

By iNGEN2 on 7/13/2010 12:18:05 PM , Rating: 5
I think this is more of a "proof of concept" test. The Army is trying to figure out if a transition to an all electric power plant is feasible. "Going green" is just PR spin to putting a smiley face on "our latest discovery in how to better kill the enemy".

Electric drive would have reduced heat signature, especially at idle, reducing visibility to enemy detection systems and thus increasing combat system survivability.

Electric drive would, even if less fuel efficient at drive, would dramatically reduce total fuel consumption, because nearly half of all M1 operating hours are at idle. Additionally an electric drive would likely have fewer moving parts with fewer friction surfaces. That will reduce component failure increasing system uptime and consequently reducing maintenance cost. These last two potential benefits alone could dramatically reduce operating and ownership costs without requiring the development of a replacement combat system.

For every system refit that actually makes it into production there are probably a dozen that don't.

RE: Efficiency of fuel cells with diesel?
By DanNeely on 7/13/2010 11:58:10 AM , Rating: 3
I don't know what the efficiency is but the current engine has really bad fuel economy, even for a tank. To get better fuel economy and reduce noise instead of a conventional diesel engine the M1 uses a turbine originally designed for a helicopter.

This gave it much faster acceleration than any other tanks; and reduced it's noise signature significantly. As usual DT's comments are off; the Abrams was actually quieter when sneaking around than the M3 Bradley recon vehicles that the army was using back in the 80s; with it's loudest noise coming from the tracks vs the Bradley's loud diesel.

In combat situations engines are never turned off because the startup time can be fatal in an ambush. This exposes a major downside of the engine choice. Unlike a normal piston engine a jet turbine doesn't have a low fuel consuming idle mode, but instead guzzles fuel at all times. Reducing fuel consumption at idle would result in major savings even if it's not as good as a normal engine when driving at high speed.

RE: Efficiency of fuel cells with diesel?
By crleap on 7/13/2010 12:52:08 PM , Rating: 5
of course we'd need to engineer some sort of whistling device so we don't run over blind combatants with our sneaky sneaky tanks.

By DanNeely on 7/13/2010 1:35:27 PM , Rating: 2
My understanding is that they're only quiet compared to other large diesel vehicles; and that even at an idle creep the tracks make more noise than a car.

By AssBall on 7/13/2010 4:24:02 PM , Rating: 2
Best laugh I've had all day, kudos.

By TeXWiller on 7/14/2010 4:42:42 AM , Rating: 2
A soldier with the American flag, marching ahead and singing The Army Goes Rolling Along would be nice, fun and retro at the same time. The amount of traffic accidents during desert engagements would surely halve.

RE: Efficiency of fuel cells with diesel?
By FishTankX on 7/13/2010 8:17:22 PM , Rating: 2
What would probably make alot more sense is an electric drive motor strong enough to handle the powertrain and then a bank of supercapicators/A123 batteries (a 1000 pound powerpack of A123 cells can generate nearly 1100kw , enough to match the turbines actual combat power) and electric motors have full torque at zero RPM. Thus, an A123 bank and an electric motor would allow the tank to have power even with the turbine idling and probably power it long enough for the tank to start back up. (My guestimates is that the A123 pack at 1100kw would have roughly enough energy for roughly 2 minutes of full power, in which time the turbine could be restarted.)

After such a maneuver, the alternator would recharge the battery bank.

An A123 pack would have massive benefits in cost, and probably simpler versus changing the power plant, and maintenence down the road. The 1100kw motor would probably add significant weight, but not too much compared to the tank.

A 1100kw high performance motor would probably weigh about 800 pounds (the PA highdrive manages 3kw/kg) and the battery pack would be about 900 pounds, replacing the existing wankel rotary APU. About an extra ton, in exchange for dramatically lower fuel consumption and a 'silent' range of about 1 or 2 miles.

By FishTankX on 7/13/2010 9:43:06 PM , Rating: 2
Need edit button. That should be 'while the turbine is powered down'

By Smilin on 7/13/2010 12:49:33 PM , Rating: 2
Unlike consumer hybrid and plug-ins this thing isn't really designed for efficiency I would guess.

It just needs to be able to run while we're at war with the people that provide fuel for it. :P

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