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Army set to use hydrogen vehicles

/ Source: Financial Times

Efforts by the U.S. Army to reduce dependence on fossil fuels for military operations around the world moved a step closer on Wednesday as a U.S. automotive supplier agreed to develop an off-road vehicle for the military powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

THE DEVELOPMENT IS a sign of an increased focus by the U.S. government on using alternative fuel systems to power the country’s military, enabling it to reduce logistics costs in distant battlefields around the world.

The U.S. military wants to lower its reliance on gasoline to fuel its tanks and military vehicles in the wake of campaigns in Iraq, where a gallon of tank fuel cost about $400 due to high transportation costs. Fuel makes up about 70 percent of the supplies transported by the U.S. military.

California-based Quantum Fuel System Technologies is to build a prototype vehicle, which the U.S. Army hopes will form the basis for a fleet of vehicles that run virtually silently, and at a fraction of the cost of gasoline-powered vehicles.

Quantum already provides the technology for small numbers of natural gas-powered vehicles sold by General Motors, such as a version of the Chevrolet Cavalier sedan and the Silverado sport utility vehicle.

The prototype will be developed over the next 12 months under a contract with the National Automotive Center, the army’s official link to civilian industry.

The NAC recently stepped up its co-operation with the Detroit carmakers in the development of other prototype vehicles aimed at counter-terrorism and “homeland security”.

Andy Abele, Quantum chief technology officer, said his company would integrate a hydrogen fuel cell power unit into a two-seater vehicle that would be smaller than the U.S. Army’s existing Humvee.

Quantum would develop the chassis and body and design the electric drive system and the hydrogen fuel storage system.

He said: “After 18 months from now, if the army likes what they see, that’s probably the earliest we would probably commence [commercial] production.”

Mr. Abele said it was technically possible for the U.S. military to make hydrogen on the battlefield, which would also help reduce the need to transport fuel.

Detroit’s carmakers and their Japanese rivals have for years been developing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles but are years away from lowering development costs enough to allow such vehicles to be sold commercially.

GM this week pledged to begin commercial production of hydrogen-powered vehicles — which emit only water — by 2010, and make a profit in the process.

The development of fuel cell power units to use the hydrogen would be rapid enough to meet the group’s target of being the first to sell 1m hydrogen-powered cars.

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