Monday, November 7, 2011

In Certain Scenarios, DOD Would be Better Fueled by Fuel Cells

DOD needn't wait to start benefitting from new fuel cell capabilities, and three use cases in particular are the most promising for existing commercial fuel cell tech, according to a report just out from LMI:
  1. Distributed power generation - as in for base load power, as well as heating and cooling needs, can  be provided by fuel cell systems. This gets you energy efficiency gains and reduced: operating costs, building energy intensity, and emissions
  2. Backup power - here the benefits are improved reliability, lower maintenance, longer life, lighter weight, and lower emissions
  3. Unmanned vehicles - aerial and otherwise. Improved capabilities like extended range, reduced maintenance, and more are are possible
Of course, all of these benefits add up to improved energy security: bases less dependent on their local grids and operational forces that can more readily power themselves without waiting for the next convoy to come over the pass.

It's not DOD's mission to develop or incubate new technologies.  Far from it. But arguably, by showing how young technologies can solve its specialized problems, it paves the way for broader applications, within and external to the military.

Click HERE to read the LMI report: Beyond Demonstration: The Role of Fuel Cells in DoD's Energy Strategy. Andy Bochman

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I fear Helvetica unmanned vehicles more than Arial ones.... ; P

Andy Bochman said...

Thanks Anon. That was pretty funny. Now fixed.

Dan Nolan said...

This is from one of the scout who does not want to break cover. Read on:
Looks like LMI has drank the fuel cell cool aid. What never comes out of these studies is a clear picture of the supply chain. They all focus on the great efficiency of the various fuel cell technologies and not the fuel. The fuel is hydrogen. The only industrial scale source of hydrogen is hydrocarbons i.e., fossil fuel. The only question is where it is reformed. BTW, the byproduct of reformation is CO2. Fuels cells are not as green as they first appear. The byproduct of fuel cell operations is H2O. That’s because the CO2 is emitted up stream. You can’t economically get H2 from electrolysis. It has a negative energy balance as a law of physics. To put this in simple terms, fuel cells for fixed place electric generation merely replace gas turbine generators. Yes, you can argue fuels cell are more efficient at converting natural gas to electricity and that is their main advantage. The argument that fuel cells for fixed place electric generation improve security through distributed generation fails to grasp that all you have traded is power lines for a gas lines. I can’t argue the relative security implications of one supply chain over the other but it’s not islanding in the energy security sense. I am still a big fan of fuels cells for niche functions like forklifts, backup power, and in some applications unmanned vehicles. In my mind the jury is still out on soldier power as most of those are methanol based and methanol is far more hazardous than H2 or JP-8 so the supply chain has an added degree of difficulty moving it around in any significant quantity. I’m all for greater efficiently and fuels cells reduce the net demand on fossil fuels but they are just a better mouse trap in our dependence on fossil fuel. Until we can reform JP-8 on the battle field (there is a problem with sulfur content) fuels cells have very, very limited tactical applications. 2 cents from your neighborhood cynic.