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AUSA 2017: GM, US Army exploring potential for hydrogen fuel cells in ground vehicles

09 October 2017

Hydrogen fuel cell technology to power ground vehicles appears to be proving stable enough for possible military use, as the fuel has been tested as relatively safe during US Army demonstrations with General Motor’s (GM’s) ZH2 hydrogen fuel cell-powered electric truck.

GM and the US Army are trialling a Chevrolet Colorado ZH2 fuel cell electric vehicle for potential military uses. (General Motors)GM and the US Army are trialling a Chevrolet Colorado ZH2 fuel cell electric vehicle for potential military uses. (General Motors)

The ZH2 is based on a Chevrolet Colorado truck, but the front and rear were changed to improve off-road mobility, and the US Army has been trailing the vehicle for the past six months or so.

Charlie Freese, executive director of GM’s Global Fuel Cell Business, told Jane’s ahead of the annual Association of the US Army (AUSA) conference that the ZH2 has demonstrated it can travel 10-times farther and approach 10-times closer without audible or thermal detection (its hottest spot is the tyres) compared with conventional propulsion system.

The US Army is leading the demonstration and driving the vehicle around several bases, and the US Marine Corps and US Air Force have observed as well, Freese said. Such fuel cell technology is advancing rapidly, but potential military users want to ensure their vehicles do not sacrifice performance or, importantly, safety.

To explore the volatility of this type of hydrogen fuel storage, the tank was shot with 7.62 mm standard, incendiary, and armour piercing rounds. It was penetrated with a rocket-propelled grenade round but did not explode, according to Freese, because hydrogen explosions are difficult to sustain and hence relatively safe. He believes hydrogen fuel stored at pressure is no more risky than conventional fuel.

The fuel cells can provide some benefits as well, and the ZH2 is capable of outputting 25 kW of continuous power and perhaps capturing the excess water that is a byproduct of the fuel cell’s output.

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