Solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technology developed for tactical generators under an Office of Naval Research (ONR) program recently demonstrated the ability to cut fuel use by up to 44% compared to a similar-sized 10 kW diesel generator now being used by the Army and Marine Corps in forward-operating bases.
The Solid-Oxide Fuel Cell Tactical Electrical Power Unit is aimed at reducing the need to transport fuel around the battlefield, especially in theaters such as Afghanistan, where enemies routinely target supply routes with homemade bombs.
Funded by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the development of the fuel cell generator was the result of collaboration within the DoD Energy and Power Community of Interest, which brings together the four military services on a variety of energy and power programs.
Many useful power and energy technologies have been developed in the last decade. We are now at the tipping point to start packaging and deploying these.—Jack Taylor, associate director of ground and sea platforms in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering
A key component to the new SOFC system is a small reformer inside the unit that converts high-sulfur military fuels such as JP-8 jet fuel into a hydrogen-rich gas capable of use in the fuel cell. Previous systems required heavy maintenance to operate with such fuels.
In addition to an easy-to-deploy modular and compact design, the new technology allows for near-silent operation. Instead of the roar of a diesel generator, the fuel cell unit’s cooling fan produces a sound similar to the quiet hum of a refrigerator or air conditioner.
Fuel cells are real and are ready for transition to our warfighters. We’re pushing forward to examine adapting this technology for use aboard ships as well.—Don Hoffman, a program officer in ONR’s Sea Warfare and Weapons Department