U.S. Air Force Tests Fuel Cell Efficiency

A new fuel cell is giving airmen at Robins Air Force Base a sneak peek at the proposed plan of the Department of Defense (DOD) for using hydrogen as an alternative fuel source. Officials said the test unit installed here is the fifth in the DOD and the first to be evaluated on an Air Force base.

Robins Air Force Base, Georgia – September 23, 2003 [SolarAccess.com] Thirty military installations have been selected worldwide as test sites for the US$80,000 electrochemical device that generates electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen, producing water as its by-product. Carl Perazzola, advanced alternative power technology transition section chief, said turning to alternative fuel sources is a way the U.S. can preserve its fossil fuel resources. “Between 60 and 80 percent of our bases have natural compressed gas flowing through the base for heating and cooling loads,” Perazzola said. “So, we began looking at it as an alternative fuel source.” Reaching temperatures up to 700 degrees F, the fuel cell captures heat to produce hot water for Robins’ firefighters’ showering, laundering and cooking needs, and scrubs out sulfur to purify the hydrogen for fuel usage. Since President George W. Bush’s State of the Union Address in January, which highlighted his $1.3 billion request to Congress for fuel cell funding, fuel cells have gained more national prominence. They are seen as a way to reduce DOD’s fuel bill and help bases comply with the Clean Air Act of 1970. Robins AFB has partnered with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center Construction Engineering Research Laboratory, the funding source, to make the base a test location for the alternative fuel technology. “If the system proves to be reliable, it may become more than an alternative fuel source,” said Colonel David Nakayama, Support Equipment and Vehicle Management Directorate director. “It may become the fuel source norm. The United States imports (more than) half of the petroleum that we use,” he said. “There are significant social, political and military implications with that because 64 percent of the world’s oil comes from the Middle East. The cost of foreign oil dependence is no longer an economic environmental issue. There are serious strategic concerns.” According to Nakayama replacing fossil fuel sources with alternative solutions is not something that can be dealt with tomorrow, it must be faced today. This particular application however, still uses a fossil fuel (natural gas), but coupled with renewable energy resources such as solar, wind, biofuels, fuel cells have to potential for both clean power an zero reliance on fossil fuels. The U.S. Air Force has no publicly stated intention to use renewables and is instead opting for natural gas to fuel the fuel cells. “We’re very fortunate to have the first fuel cell beta test site at Robins,” Nakayama said. “Fuel is one of the most difficult things to move in any conflict, in any campaign. If we can solve that, we’ve not only solved a great deal by reducing the logistical footprint of our deployed troops, but we’ve changed how we defend American interests around the world.”
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