A US soldier fills up fuel containers. (US Army)
Army scientists are seeking a way to cut fuel consumption on forward operating bases in half by converting the military’s most common fuel to hydrogen.
The project would replace JP-8-burning generators with electrical fuel cells that are twice as efficient, according to scientists at the Army Research Lab. The idea is to reduce the Army’s dependence fuel supply convoys in the war zone.
“Many casualties have occurred in the delivery of fuel in Afghanistan, and our research is to reduce casualties by reducing the fuel resupply issue,” said Deryn Chu, the fuel cell team leader.
A small team of scientists at the lab in Adelphi, Md., is developing technology for lightweight, portable prototype systems that would reform complex, dirty JP-8 diesel into simple hydrogen molecules required to power a fuel cell.
JP-8 costs $15 per gallon. With that comes the monetary cost of the supply chain and the human cost of protecting it, Chu said.
Army scientists hope to create a fuel cell to power aFOB at 30 percent efficiency, compared with the 15 percent to 17 percent efficiency of the Army’s internal combustion generators, Chu said.
Last year, scientists developed ultrathin membranes made from palladium, which they use to purify hydrogen-rich reformate, according to team member Zachary Dunbar.
By adapting technology used in the semiconductor industry, Army scientists have been able to make membranes that are half the thickness of a human hair but retain their integrity, Dunbar said.
Liquid JP-8 is heated and introduced to catalysts, which cause its molecules to break down into various elements. It produces hydrogen, which soaks through the palladium membrane like a sponge, while the impurities are filtered out.
The next step is to test the durability of the membranes, Dunbar said.
The laboratory’s basic research is years from the field.