The US Army is funding the development of a prototype military hybrid off-road vehicle operating on similar principles to the groundbreaking Toyota Prius. Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies Inc of California announced it had won the contract in a release on Monday. Under the $4.88m deal, Quantum will develop a diesel hybrid version of its previous "Aggressor" prototype, a "high performance light-duty off-road fuel cell hybrid vehicle."
Company execs describe their previous fuel-cell Aggressor as "successful", but it seems to be understood that the US forces don't think fuel-cell kit is ready for the battlefield in the near future. The new hybrid version, according to Quantum, will "provide a cost-effective, near-term solution as fuel cell technology matures".
The US military, with plenty of tech funding to spread about, has been trying to find innovative ways of cutting its fuel consumption for a long time. This isn't out of any concern regarding ecological issues, but due to hard operational necessities. The primary constraint on military operations is nearly always the availability of supplies - as the old gag has it, "amateurs talk tactics, dilettantes talk strategy; professionals talk logistics".
Bulk fuel can make up over a third of an army's needs, amounting to thousands of tonnes per day for a division-sized force. Cutting down on this requirement would allow the US forces to operate further, faster, and more easily, and reduce the amount of soft targets for insurgents in theatre.
The previous version of the Aggressor was based on a Hydrogen fuel cell concept but it seems to have been dropped for the Prius like deisel-electric hybrid:
Suppose you could build an off-road vehicle that's twice as quick as traditional ones, operates silently and can even be used as a generator. Sounds like an ultimate driving machine for the U.S. soldiers sneaking around battle zones, no?
Well, that's what a company has built as an Army concept vehicle. Nicknamed the Aggressor, the all-terrain vehicle runs on hydrogen and a fuel cell stack, which takes the hydrogen and outside air to create electricity.
So instead of a noisy diesel or gasoline power, the vehicle runs quietly on electricity. The fuel cell stack also emits less heat than an internal combustion engine, leaving a smaller heat signature for enemies to pick up. And the stack works as a silent power generator, so troops can run communications and surveillance equipment.
According to Quantum, the vehicle's top speed is 75 mph and it can reach 40 mph twice as fast as a gasoline peer. The Aggressor gets extra torque by using a battery pack that captures energy from braking. That's the same principle that's used in gas-electric hybrids sold to consumers.
But the Aggressor suffers from the same limitation that automakers are dealing with: the fact that it's hard to store much hydrogen on board.
"The vehicle has an integrated power plant, which provides more functionality for our soldiers," Dennis Wend, Director of the Army's engineering center, added in a statement announcing the Aggressor. "What we've learned from this project definitely has the potential to translate into real solutions to give our soldiers an advantage."
Quantum CEO Alan Niedzwiecki pitched the Aggressor as also being useful for homeland security and border patrol operations.
Friday, February 1, 2008
Posted by Chrissy at 5:59 PM