Lockheed Martin has won a $3 million contract with the Office of Naval Research to develop solid oxide fuel cell generators that will replace reliance on traditional battlefield power generation equipment.
It’s hoped the fuel cells will reduce the fuel required to generate electricity by 50 percent. The fuel cell technology will be integrated with solar PV panels.
More than 100,000 military generators are used worldwide to power services from lighting and air conditioning to computers, radios, and command and control systems.
But fuel supply lines are always vulnerable in warzones, and the troops who transport fuel are some of the most exposed in the battlefield. A 2009 study conducted by the Army Environmental Policy Institute estimates that there is nearly one casualty for every 24 fuel resupply convoys in Afghanistan.
The report calculates that a 10 percent decrease in fuel consumption over a five year period could lead to a reduction of 35 fuel-related resupply casualties.
Solid oxide fuel cell generators will significantly decrease fuel consumption as well as reduce the military’s carbon footprint.
Diesel generators— the largest consumers of fuel on the battlefield today—are dirty, noisy and inefficient. By contrast, solid oxide fuel cells are highly efficient and very quiet. They convert fuel into electricity using a chemical reaction that is 30 to 50 percent more efficient than the combustion engines used in diesel generators, and because fuel cells require less fuel to create the same amount of power, they offer the potential to save billions of dollars in operational costs.
The new fuel cells could answer Department of Defense prayers. The DoD is the world’s largest institutional energy user, with a 2011 energy bill totaling $5 billion. In Afghanistan, fuel can cost up to $400 a gallon once transportation and security expenses are included.
While Lockheed Martin—in partnership with Cleveland-based TMI—is currently the only company to have continuously operated a solid oxide fuel cell generator for more than 1,000 hours on standard diesel fuel, others are vying for a piece of the action.
Start-up companies like Westwood, Mass.-based Acumentrics are also pursuing a solid oxide fuel cell technology tailored to the needs of the military.