Military Leads Fuel-Cell Vehicle Parade In Hawaii

The U.S. military’s testing of fuel-cell vehicles in Hawaii is shifting into higher gear as part of a larger effort to encourage hydrogen-powered cars as an alternative to gas cars on the petroleum-reliant islands.

Last December, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and the Office of Naval Research highlighted five General Motors Equinox fuel-cell vehicles being put through their paces at Marine Corps Base Hawaii—and now the Army says the number of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles in use by the military in Hawaii is up to 16.

Hawaii Hydrogen Initiative military

image via Hawaii Hydrogen Initiative

Although the testing is happening in Hawaii—with the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines all involved— the military’s fuel-cell vehicle efforts are directed out of the Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) in the Detroit suburb of Warren, Mich. TARDEC calls itself the the nation’s laboratory for advanced military automotive technology and says it serves as the ground systems integrator for all U.S. Department of Defense manned and unmanned ground vehicle systems.

“This large scale experiment will last more than two years and, during it, we will mature and accelerate these technologies in support of our nation’s energy efficiency goals,” Grace M. Bochenek, TARDEC director, said in a statement.

The military is at the heart of the program, but the Hawaii Hydrogen Initiative actually includes 13 agencies, companies and universities. It was launched in December 2010 with the goal developing a hydrogen infrastructure in the state and displacing petroleum imports by operating vehicles with renewable hydrogen.

“The development of fuel-cell vehicles and an associated transportation infrastructure on which new military and civilian fleets can be tested and employed will reduce dependence on foreign oil and help move our state and country forward,” Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) said at a demonstration of the vehicles this week at Fort Shafter, Hawaii. “Hawaii is uniquely situated to benefit from the shift toward electric and fuel-cell vehicles.”

GM is looking forward to moving the program beyond the islands. “Once the key hydrogen infrastructure elements are proven in Hawaii, other states can adopt a similar approach,” said Charles Freese, executive director of global fuel cell activities for GM. “The military is paving the way, demonstrating the practicality and applicability of this technology.”

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.

1 Comment

  • Reply February 24, 2012

    Bill Swain

    Yes. This is great! Let the military save our butts by developing what should have been developed by the private sector 40 years ago. However, some things never change. This is exactly like the British government’s attempt to develop new sources of petroleum for the use of the British Navy just before WW I. Except, who is the Sidney Reilly in this scenario?  

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