Fuel-cell generator could halve battlefield fuel consumption

The US military has demonstrated an electric generator that could cut fuel consumption almost in half compared to existing diesel systems.

Engineers at the Office of Naval Research (ONR) have been working to reduce the demands for transporting fuel around the battlefield, particularly in scenarios like the Afghanistan conflict where enemies have targeted supply routes with homemade bombs.

The result is a generator that converts high-sulphur military fuels – such as JP-8 jet fuel – into a hydrogen-rich gas to power a solid-oxide fuel-cell, packaged in a compact, modular design with a noise output similar to that of an air conditioner.

The ONR said the generator was recently shown to reduce fuel consumption by 44 per cent compared to similar-sized 10kW generators currently used by the military.

‘Using less fuel ultimately means fewer convoys and more lives saved,’ said Dr John Pazik, director of ONR’s Ship Systems and Engineering Research Division, in a statement.

The new unit features a compact, modular design and makes little noise.

The system uses a small reformer to convert the fuel into a hydrogen-rich gas that is then reacted with oxygen in the fuel cell to produce electricity. Previous systems required heavy maintenance to operate with such fuels.

‘Fuel cells are real and are ready for transition to our warfighters,’ said Don Hoffman, a programme officer in ONR’s Sea Warfare and Weapons Department. ‘We’re pushing forward to examine adapting this technology for use aboard ships as well.’

The research was funded by the US Department of Defense and was the result of collaboration within the DoD Energy and Power Community of Interest, which brings together the four military services on a variety of energy and power programs.