USMC Leadership with EVs, Biofuel and Hydrogen

Marines GM truckThe United States Marine Corp (USMC), like all branches of the Department of Defense (DoD), is exploring the use of hydrogen and other forms of clean transportation. One major motivation is that the fuel which runs U.S. Defense operations comes from oil. That oil is increasingly controlled by countries that have declared their animosity to the United States. If military fuel is controlled by the enemy, then our ability to defend this country is crippled.

World War II provides a valuable history lesson. On December 7, 1941 Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor. The United States entered World War II. It quickly became apparent that worldwide natural rubber supplies were limited, and by mid-1942 most of the rubber-producing regions were under Japanese control. Military trucks needed rubber for tires, and rubber was used in almost every other war machine.

In 1942, synthetic rubber was considered too expensive for wide usage just as hydrogen is now considered too expensive. The US government launched a major effort to increase synthetic rubber production. By 1944, a total of 50 factories were manufacturing it, pouring out a volume of the material twice that of the world’s natural rubber production before the beginning of the war.

Now at Pearl Harbor, history is in a sense repeating itself. Hickam Air Force Base is putting into service a hydrogen fuel cell bus and a hydrogen fuel cell van. This hydrogen is sourced from U.S. natural gas reformed with steam. This hydrogen and other uses of alt-fuels are steps towards energy independence.

Leading suppliers of oil to the USA include Iraq and two countries that it boarders, Saudi Arabia and Iran. If we were shut-off from oil from those three countries, our economy would suffer more than in the great depression. Also, without their oil, U.S. military defense would be crippled. In 1990, Saddam Hussein asked OPEC to raise oil prices. He needed the money to recover billions lost in a protracted war with Iran. OPEC refused. Soon, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait with 120,000 troops and 2,000 tanks and seized its oil. Then Iraqi troops began to mass along the Saudi border, breaching it at some points, and indicating the possibility that Hussein’s forces would continue south into Saudi Arabia’s oil fields.

Regarding Iraq’s actions as a threat to a vital interest of the US, namely the oil production capability of the Persian Gulf region, President George Bush ordered warplanes and ground forces to Saudi Arabia. Operation Desert Shield, the US military deployment to first defend Saudi Arabia grew rapidly to become the largest American deployment since Vietnam. Years of subsequent embargo of Iraq have raised oil prices as the USA went to other nations for oil. 1990 Desert Shield and the current 2006 Iraq War demonstrate the need for energy independence.

Energy independence is a key objective of the U.S. military. Military vehicles can broadly be classified as either tactical or commercial. Tactical includes all the vehicles that are deployed in war and expeditionary environments including humvees, tanks, amphibious vehicles and helicopters. Commercial vehicles handle much of the transportation and goods movement here in the USA. DoD is taking major steps towards energy independence with commercial vehicles

An obstacle to being free of dependence on foreign oil is that all tactical vehicles have been required to use an oil-derived jet fuel JP-8. In some ways, the use of this single fuel simplifies logistics. But using JP-8 creates serious problems. Consider this irony. Fuel from oil constitutes 70% of the U.S. military’s total weight that must be transported into battle for transportation and stationary power. Our battles are increasingly about the oil that is converted into that fuel. We now have an opportunity to transition to hydrogen that is lighter to transport, does not make us vulnerable to foreign suppliers, and is not a cause of war.

Marines GEMIn California, U.S. Marine Corp Camp Pendleton, as part of the Department of the Navy, demonstrates the shift to using less oil. I recently spent over two hours at Camp Pendleton with Gary Funk, Regional Fleet Manager for Marine Corps West. Camp Pendleton follows the EPAC objective that 75% of commercial garrison mobile equipment purchases will be alt-fuel. With long-term buying contracts and five-year planning cycles, 75% will not happen overnight, but the shift to clean vehicles is taking place. At Camp Pendleton, there are over 320 electric vehicles (EV). Over 200 are electric scooters. 120 are GEMs, the 25 mph DaimlerChrysler vehicle. The EVs use an 8 station charger that is solar powered, providing zero-emissions from source to wheels.

Camp Pendleton also uses hundreds of CNG vehicles. Camp Pendleton is the nation’s largest buyer of biodiesel with annual purchasing of over one million gallons of B20. These one million gallons from virgin soy is a million less gallons of diesel from oil. The use of B20 has been relatively problem free. Some commercial vehicles, such as buses, have fewer problems with B20 than JP-8.

Camp Pendleton had also been proactive in buying flex-fuel vehicles that can use E85 ethanol. This would be another step towards energy independence with the ethanol being processed from corn and blended with only 15% gasoline. Unfortunately, ethanol can produce more smog pollution. Flex-fuel engines from GM, Ford and Daimler Chrysler all failed to meet CARB vapor recovery requirements. There was also a severe shortage of E85 in California, due to lack of local production. Camp Pendleton is releasing 200 of its flex-fuel vehicles to other states and running pure gasoline in the remaining vehicles.

The Marine Corp is also starting to demonstrate hydrogen vehicles. Camp Pendleton received the nation’s first GM Equinox. GM is currently putting 100 hydrogen fuel cell Equinoxes on the road. Recently, I drove this exciting vehicle on surface streets and on the freeway. It is a powerful car that many would want to own. It has a range of 180 miles at 10,000 psi. The R&D people at GM have an exciting vision that includes advanced batteries; regenerative braking; a thin “skateboard” platform common to multiple vehicles; drive-by-wire replacement of mechanical links to pedals and steering wheel; and electric motors. GM plans to start selling a next generation fuel cell vehicle by 2011 based on the E-flex platform..

Camp Pendleton plans to officially open the hydrogen station in Spring 2007. Camp Pendleton will produce its hydrogen from natural gas using a Ztek reformer that produces 30 kg/day that will replace trucked-in hydrogen in temporary storage. Initially, there will be 60 kg of hydrogen storage. The fueling station will be 5,000 psi. The fuel station is easily accessible from the I-5 freeway, using the Harbor Drive exit. To encourage shared usage, the station is deliberately located outside the guarded Camp Pendleton. The nearest 10,000 psi station is in Irvine.

Thanks to Camp Pendleton’s leadership another hydrogen station is being built near the Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego. There hydrogen will be produced by solar electrolysis allowing vehicles to travel with zero emissions on a source-to-wheels basis.

The first hydrogen station was not easy to get approved. The station has been delayed for one year because a full environmental study was commissioned and delivered. The site was determined to be safe. One Marine Colonel felt that a terrorist (or a Marine with a terrible aim) could shoot it with a large shell and cause a massive explosion. An explosion was determined to be unlikely. Because hydrogen is eight times lighter than air, and because the station is in the open air, if the hydrogen storage were punctured, the hydrogen would vent into the sky.

The Hindenburg zeppelin disaster of 1937 balloon explosion was sited. One-third of the passengers died, mostly by jumping, when the massive balloon caught fire. The deaths were blamed on hydrogen. Now we know that if there had been a hydrogen explosion, there would have been no survivors. Likely, it was the cellulose acetate butyrate balloon coating that caught fire. In fact, hydrogen is safer than the JP-8 fuel used by the military.

Limited access to other safety-certified hydrogen vehicles will also be provided. This will make it easier for nearby cities such as Oceanside and San Clemente to add hydrogen vehicles to their city fleets. Both cities are considering demonstrating zero-emission vehicles.

A large maintenance building is near the fueling station. Vehicle manufacturers are encouraged to lease offices are use this as a development and demonstration center much like the CaFCP in West Sacramento. In the future, other hydrogen vehicles, such as cars and SUVs are likely to be deployed at Camp Pendleton. There is strong interest in a hydrogen shuttle or bus. Camp Pendleton also plans to demonstrate a 10kW fuel cell for stationary power.

Beyond just commercial vehicles, Camp Pendleton will demonstrate a tactical vehicle – a tow truck. The Army is also experimenting with a number of hydrogen tactical vehicles, such as the humvee. Although DoD is reluctant to send vehicles into battle using a second fuel a transition from JP-8 is necessary. Hydrogen vehicles promise to increase mission endurance, increase stealth with near silent running, and reduce weight and therefore logistical burden. The cost of air and ground transport of the heavy JP-8, and defending battlefield transport and storage, makes the cost in the hundreds per gallon. Hydrogen is less expensive. It can be electrolyzed on location from water. It can be reformed from local captured fuels. In the short-term, the military’s preference is likely to reform it from JP-8.

Hydrogen fuel cells can also be used in heavy vehicles to provide auxiliary power. Many vehicles idle up to 40% of the time. Because fuel cells generate electricity, hydrogen vehicles can be clustered together in a mini-grid to provide all power for a forward camp.

DoD is serious about energy independence. In 2012, hydrogen vehicles are expected to be standard on the GSA buying schedule.

Will the USA achieve energy independence with electric vehicles and alt-fuels such as ethanol, biodiesel, CNG and hydrogen? The success at Camp Pendleton provides a reason to be optimistic.

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About Author: John Addison

Founder of the Clean Fleet Report, author of Save Gas, Save the Planet. John writes about electric cars, renewable energy, and sustainability.

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