?Hybrid Trucks in the Military
The United States Army is in the process of introducing hybrid diesel vehicles into its military fleet. One such vehicle, designed by General Motors especially for the army and revealed in 2006, is a diesel-electric hybrid pickup truck with a body style based on GM’s Chevy Silverado. This hybrid military truck, belonging to the class of what the army considers to be “”light tactical vehicles,”” has a 6.6-liter V-8 engine with 210 horsepower and 545 pounds-foot of torque. This diesel engine is combined with a hybrid electric system that is estimated to reduce fuel consumption by anywhere from 25 – 40 percent, depending on terrain. In addition, the vehicle is equipped with a fuel cell auxiliary power unit–a component that will no doubt prove to be extremely useful to our armed forces in the field.
The army uses portable electronic equipment extensively for tasks such as communications and surveillance, and these electronics require vast amounts of power–power that it is not always practical to supply. In the past, providing the necessary power for troop operations meant hauling a large, clunky generator into the field by a separate vehicle. These generators were cumbersome and inefficient, and the noise they made during their operation was often a security concern.
The Fuel Cell Auxiliary Power Unit
The fuel cell auxiliary power unit on the new hybrid military trucks is a quiet, mobile alternative to the loud, stationary generators that have been used by the army in the past. In the field of battle, the ability to operate with stealth is obviously of extreme importance, and these quieter generators provide a clear advantage. They also give off much less heat than conventional generators, and so are less likely to trigger enemy heat sensors.
In the auxiliary power unit, a proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyser uses electricity provided by the hybrid truck’s diesel engine to break down water into its constituent molecules of hydrogen and oxygen while the vehicle is in motion. Later, when the engine is off, the stored hydrogen is combined with oxygen from the air, producing usable electricity, as well as water that is stored to be used for the next cycle. Thus, energy that would simply have been lost as heat while the vehicle was in motion can be used to provide power for military operations. These fuel cell generators provide the same amount of power as conventional generators, and can be operated 6 to 10 times longer.
This GM hybrid military truck could very well become the model for the new fleet of 30,000 light tactical vehicles that the Army intends to employ by the end of the decade. The Marines has also expressed interest in hybrid trucks, having just signed a contract with a Milwaukee based company to produce a prototype for a hybrid heavy cargo hauling vehicle.
The Army’s fleet of trucks, numbering nearly 250,000, is one of the largest in the nation. These vehicles cost literally billions of dollars per year to fuel, with some of the heavy combat vehicles blazing through gas at a mind boggling rate of less than one mile to the gallon. In today’s world, with gas prices soaring to over 3 dollars per gallon and climbing, this cannot be view by the rational mind as anything short of wasteful. If a significant percentage of those vehicles were hybrids, the resulting savings in the amount of taxpayer’s dollars spent on fuel would add up to a staggering amount over time. This, combined with the obvious tactical advantages and added security that the vehicles offer our troops, make hybrid military trucks an innovation that many Americans will welcome and support.