Could General Motors and the Army Build a Hydrogen Fuel Cell Tank?

On Aug. 15, 1940, the Army contracted with Chrysler to create the nation's first government-owned, contractor-operated facility at the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant in Warren, Mich. Is TARDEC's partnership with General Motors the next stage in tank evolution? Photo: TARDEC via Wikimedia Commons.

If there's one vehicle that's not exactly known for being "carbon friendly," it's a tank. And I mean a literal Army tank. However, that might change, because General Motors is teaming up with the U.S. Army's Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center, or TARDEC, to develop hydrogen fuel-cell technology. Here's what else you need to know.

Fuel cells and the future
Fuel cells have long been heralded as the fuel of the future, with critics being quick to add that it'll always be the fuel of the future. Luckily, that sentiment is changing, and hydrogen, as a fuel, is rapidly becoming more probable thanks to advances in hydrogen fuel cell technology. Still, those advances don't come cheap, and the best way to make the technology affordable is to split it up between companies: hence, the Army's partnership with General Motors.

The partnership between the Army and General Motors is projected to last up to five years. General Motors said of the agreement:

GM and TARDEC will jointly test new hydrogen fuel cell-related materials and designs to evaluate their performance and durability before assembling them into full scale fuel cell propulsion systems. This collaborative effort will enable GM and TARDEC to jointly develop technology that meets both of their requirements, accomplishing more tangible results than either entity could achieve on its own. 

The Army goes green
One of the reasons behind the push for "green" energy is the desire to reduce dependency on oil, particularly foreign oil. Further, TARDEC Director Paul Roger said the Army is looking at technology that will "give the United States a decisive advantage," and fuel cell technology meets that criterion. As such, TARDEC opened a new state-of-the-art Fuel Cell Research Laboratory in Warren, Mich., which enables TARDEC to test and incorporate the fuel cell systems it's been developing for military applications.

Further, General Motors said that TARDEC is evaluating General Motors' fuel cell vehicles, because the technology has possible military applications ranging from ground vehicles to mobile generators.

General Motors and leading the fuel cell charge
The partnership between the Army and General Motors may sound odd, but in fact, General Motors is an acknowledged leader in fuel cell technology. According to the Clean Energy Patent Growth Index, General Motors came in first for total fuel cell patents filed between 2002 and 2012. Moreover, General Motors has accumulated nearly 3 million miles of real-world driving in a fleet of 119 hydrogen-powered vehicles. According to General Motors' press release, that's more than any other automaker.

What to watch
Critics abound when it comes to hydrogen technology, but the fact is, there are significant advantages to it. Fuel cell vehicles, or FCVs, can be refueled in minutes, hydrogen can be produced from wind and biomass, the only emission from fuel cell vehicles is water vapor, and the price projections for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles has decreased dramatically -- by 2030, the Department of Energy, in conjunction with National Academy of Sciences, estimates that the price for an average FCV will be around $34,181 before government subsidies. That's in comparison with the price for a battery electric vehicle, or BEV, which in 2030 is $34,979. Yes, the FCV owner will have to pay for hydrogen fuel, but the total ownership cost per mile is $0.358 -- a BEV's total ownership cost per mile is $0.355.

What this adds up to is a potential gold mine for General Motors, and other auto manufactures, that are betting on hydrogen. Further, General Motors' partnership with the Army is just another step in the fuel cell technology progression. More importantly, General Motors, in conjunction with Honda Motor , is co-developing a next-generation fuel cell system and hydrogen storage technologies, aiming for the 2020 time frame. Consequently, while you may not be able go buy an Army hydrogen fuel cell tank, General Motors could make a great addition to your long-term portfolio.

Hydrogen fuel cells still have hurdles to overcome, but this industry is already changing the world
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