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 (NYSE: GM  ) 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 (NYSE: HMC  ) , 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.

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Read/Post Comments (8) | Recommend This Article (10)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On November 17, 2013, at 11:55 AM, Dmitrii wrote:

    According to standards of working with explosive gases, hydrogen require IIC T6 marked equipment, which is the most explosion protected equipment in existence. This is a law.

    Temperature of self-ignition of hydrogen is as low as 85 C.

    Why a hydrogen economy doesn't make sense:

    http://phys.org/news85074285.html

    There is no single advantage of fuel cell hydrogen vehicles over battery powered ones.

    FCHV are more expensive, consume 4 times more power (that should be produced at the coal power plant), are far, far more dangerous and need trillions of $ of investments into infrastructure (existing infrastructure can not be converted since existing instruments, valves, piping, etc. have explosion protection lesser than IIC T6).

  • Report this Comment On November 17, 2013, at 12:29 PM, okjerryds wrote:

    Sounds like the Government is building the fuel cell to me.

  • Report this Comment On November 17, 2013, at 12:55 PM, Seer2012 wrote:

    I think a hydrogen fuel cell economy makes a lot of sense. Over the past year there has been an evolution of new technologies that have come forth to make hydrogen the energy source that we need. Fuel cells are smaller, more efficient, last longer and are significantly less expensive. There have been breakthroughs in hydrogen production, storage and transportation. Hydrogen is the one of the most substances on earth and its only produces water vapor when utilized. There are many positive comments to be made about hydrogen, so here are a few interesting articles that I have read lately.

    http://www.digitaltrends.com/cars/hydrogen-fuel-cell-catalys...

    http://www.vtnews.vt.edu/articles/2013/04/040413-cals-hydrog...

    http://www.fuelcelltoday.com/news-events/news-archive/2013/j...

  • Report this Comment On November 17, 2013, at 1:34 PM, kingofrome wrote:

    to bad Hydrogen Fuel Cell cars are a major safely hazard on roads. it wouldn't make sense to even put theses cars on the roads.... water will drip out of the tail pipe and freeze during winter making roads very slippery . you think black ice is bad on roads try theses fuel cell cars. everyone will be sliding on the roads in to ditches...... plus they use 3 times more energy then electric cars. hydrogen cars still use batterys !!

  • Report this Comment On November 17, 2013, at 3:01 PM, NoiTall wrote:

    dmitri

    the single incredibly important advantage of fuel cells over battery cars is energy density.

    Hydrogen energy density is on par with other chemical fuels. Battery density is 1/70th to 1/35th that of chemical fuels for lithium ion batteries.

    Can you imagine a tank stalled out in a warzone needing a recharge at your friendly neighborhood where the electric grid has been taken out?

    THey may take more energy elsewhere but in the vehicle itself, they are twice as efficient getting energy out of the same volume of chemical fuel to the drivetrain than internal combustion engines.

    Another advantage is they dont have explosive lithium ion batteries that regularly catch fire in portables in airports, a large Li-ion battery caught fire in two different boeing 787 jets, and Teslas catch fire with minor dents. Hydrogen, if stored in free form goes UP much quicker than gasoline so will not pool on ground waiting for a spark. THe hindenburg disaster was actually triggered by flammable iron, cellulose acetate and aluminum powder (elements of rocket fuel) on the outside covering the fabric.

    Fuel cells can be scaled up, so while you will never have a battery operated long haul semi, it makes LOTS of sense to have fuel cell operated vehicle. silent, twice the MPG, etc.

    Kingofrome: your objection which I've seen posted twice is the easiest to address. there is no reason the water can't be collected in a small tank. in warehouses, salt mines, etc this may be needed and in other places desirable as you mentioned. in arid areas, many people may like having a source of pure water.

    However hydrogen cars DO NOT use batteries, at least NOT a vast huge battery like an electric car. They might have ONE SMALL battery to start fuel pumps, run radios when car off, warm up the fuel cell, etc.

    Fuel cells ARE NOT batteries. WHen not operating, they do not contain stored energy, so are not a huge hazard.

    Plus fuel cells have been around since the apollo missions, 50 years ago. They just need to be mass produced cheap and reliably enuf to be economical.

    You could put a bank of solar panels on your farm and hydrolyze water to hydrogen.

    Another possibility is running solid oxide fuel cells on nat gas. They would have the efficiency advantages over internal combustion engines and the emissions would NOT contain NOX, only water and CO2. CO2 at half the level as they are more efficient.

    Currently solid oxide fuel cells are in use commercially powering large biz as backup, such as the bloom fuel cell stack powering walmarts.

  • Report this Comment On November 17, 2013, at 3:30 PM, stuffing wrote:

    this is my first comment.

    there will be more at a later time.

  • Report this Comment On November 17, 2013, at 4:36 PM, Dmitrii wrote:

    Seer2012

    Hydrogen is NOT a power source. It's a way to STORE energy generated by SOMETHING ELSE. Just like a battery, but far less effective (4 times less effective).

    NoiTall

    Hydrogen is the most dangerous gas from the point of view of explosiveness. Check industry standards.

    Claiming that li-ion battery is more dangerous is ridiculous.

    Why would I need to use solar panels to produce energy that will be converted to hydrogen that will be converted back to electricity instead off just using that electricity? I'll need 4 times less energy, 4 times less solar panels.

  • Report this Comment On November 17, 2013, at 10:03 PM, Seer2012 wrote:

    Dimtrii, I am not trying to split hairs but my point was simply to say the hydrogen technologies are evolving and whether you want to call it a power source or not is really not a significant point and it really depends how you want to look at it.

    Most of the arguments I am now hearing against hydrogen are based of information from 10 years ago and that information is out dated. Hydrogen has taken some giant steps forward but people do not want to listen. I would assume because they are invested in Tesla and do not want to hear anything that threatens their line of thought. Hydrogen is coming in a big way and nothing is going to stop it from coming to market. You can not stop progress and the breakthroughs can not be ignored.

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