Fuel Cell Industry Cheers Military Embrace

The fuel cell industry is hailing a report sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) that concludes that the military “should more proactively evaluate and acquire fuel cell systems.” The report recommended fuel cells for three of the 11 applications that were studied: distributed power generation, backup power and unmanned vehicles. For a fourth application – nontactical material handling equipment – the report [PDF], by the consultancy LMI, recommended the DOD “continue to monitor the costs and benefits of introducing this technology in appropriate distribution operations.”

“The U.S. Department of Defense is demonstrating innovation and leadership by recommending the adoption of fuel cell technology for a variety of operational, cost and environmental reasons,” Morry Markowitz, executive director of U.S. Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association, said in a statement. “Acquiring fuel cell systems will improve U.S. defense energy usage, protecting and creating jobs in the fuel cell industry.”

fuel cells and military

image via LMI

On distributed power generation, the report found that all or a portion of base load power, as well as heating and cooling needs, could come from fuel cell systems. “As an option for supplying facility energy services,” the report said, “fuel cells can increase energy efficiency and reduce operating costs, building energy intensity,and emissions.”

The report recommended use of fuel cells as backup power because, it said, military facilities are often “highly dependent on a vulnerable commercial power grid.” Fuel cells would do away with this risk, and bring the further advantages of “reliability, lower maintenance, longer life, lighter weight and lower emissions.” Earlier this summer, the U.S. Department of Energy announced it was working with the DOD to equip eight military bases around the country with fuel-cell backup power systems.

fuel cells and military

image via LMI

Recognizing the military’s growing use of unmanned vehicles, the report said that “based on demonstration results, fuel cells have excellent potential to improve mission capability.” This is something the industry is already at work on: Last year, Horizon Energy Systems and Elbit Systems announced the successful completion of a test flight for Elbit’s Sklark Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) powered by Horizon’s Aeropak fuel cell system.

The LMI report, “Beyond Demonstration: The Role of Fuel Cells in DoD’s Energy Strategy,” was sponsored by the Defense Logistics Agency’s research and development arm. The agency says it sources and provides “nearly 100 percent of the consumable items that U.S. military forces need to operate, from food, fuel and energy, to uniforms, medical supplies, and construction and barrier equipment.”

The report notes that its findings “are those of LMI and should not be construed as an official agency position, policy, or decision, unless so designated by other official documentation.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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