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Navy demo shows solid oxide fuel cell tactical generator could cut diesel fuel use by up to 44%

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



Deployment in the quantities the military will need will drive costs down.
What's not to like about saving 44% of your fuel, and producing the power silently, without vibration and with very small amounts of pollution?
No doubt haters will continue to hate.


I'm actually shocked that this has taken this long. The silence alone makes it worthwhile.

I've always thought that a PEM fuel cell running off of ammonia would make sense for a tank so long as you could make the energy/power density requirements. The idea being that said tank would be quieter and basically not have a heat signature.


SOFCs are a little susceptible to sulfur and other contaminants. I wonder what they do about that? The options are scrub the syn-gas, or make a more sulfur tolerant anode. It's difficult to make a sulfur tolerant anode without a simultaneous drop in performance. Although, below a certain PPM level of sulfur the performance loss is not permanent. I suspect JP8 is probably above that level however.


From the article they have apparently improved the reformer to take out enough sulphur.
Of course, the military is much more cost-tolerant than most civilian applications, and the reformer also may need replacing a lot.


One can tell it'd a fuel cell article when there are no fuel cell prices.


You really don't understand cost and development curves, do you?
Have a look at the cost history of high energy density batteries.

Trevor Carlson

The 44% improvement points as much to how badly the standard 10kW generators need to be upgraded as to how efficient a new fuel cell system is.

If this were the private market they'd compare both systems side by side at relative equal cost. Maybe it would make more sense to upgrade the current generators by adding a Cyclone style WHE bolted on to recover exhaust energy. The fuel quality issues would not be a problem and you could have three times the generating power for the same money as the fuel cell system. The heat and sound signature could also be reduced at less cost than an all new fuel cell system.

Given that most of the strategic military generators are left in country or destroyed after a short period of time - the savings in fuel for the lifetime of the unit may be very small compared to the higher initial cost. Sadly cost is not as large a factor as it should be, so each concept is graded more on its performance merits and durability in adverse conditions.

A small fuel cell system would make more sense for a compact, light-weight and silent portable power pack that could be carried into the field to charge small surveillance drones, radios, sat. phones, night vision gear, etc.


Where are you getting your costs from to make the detailed comparison?
It is also unclear where you are getting your fuel costs from.
The costs applicable in the US are a tiny fraction of the costs in the middle of Afghanistan, and that is just the monetary cost. I believe they can come to well over $100 a gallon.
Many lives are also lost conveying and protecting fuel supplies.
Until I come across detailed costs,which may be difficult to provide since for understandable reasons the military is cagey about such things, I will assume that they have done their sums.


'“This technology goes right to the heart of the Department of Defense’s Operational Energy Strategy,” said Dr. John Pazik, director of ONR’s Ship Systems and Engineering Research Division. “Using less fuel ultimately means fewer convoys and more lives saved.”'


A gallon of JP-8 can go as high as $400 per gallon depending on who has to be paid off along the delivery route.


@Davemart - "You really don't understand cost and development curves, do you?
Have a look at the cost history of high energy density batteries.

I understand the fuel cell cost and and development curves are so hideous that the cost wasn't and has seldom been stated during thirty years.

Oh, and lead-acid batteries have provided power and profit for over 150 years, though developed decades after the fuel cell.


Yeah, that is why so many production BEVs were running on lead acid for the last 100 years.
Since as usual you make assertions without providing references, here are cost curves for fuel cells:

Note the massive 83% decrease since 2002.

Fuel cells are at an earlier stage of development than high density batteries.
Get over it, and please stop drawing daft inferences about eventual costs from it.


@DM - Combining and

Covers over 150 years of battery and/or EV profits.

Get a sense of history and of how little value the fuel cell has been compared to the battery.


For such 10 kW generators solar arrays would be complementary and usefull power source especialy taking into account high diesel cost. They can be easely deployed on the roofs of military compaunds.


So what?
if you want to carry out that sort of comparison, how come you are not arguing that combustion engines are overwhelmingly more important than batteries, save to start them up?

You are cherry picking.


Concerning electricity, batteries have accounted for thousands of times more profit than fuel cells for many decades and that is not cherry picking.

It's been decades of the same broken fuel cell promises.

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