Muzzling Gas Guzzling Generators

Fuel cell technology offers a more efficient solution for DOD’s more than 100,000 generators.


file Reducing the need for fuel, with such innovations as Lockheed Martin’s fuel cell generator, would lessen the risk to troops and equipment protecting fuel convoys from insurgents in Afghanistan.

Fuel prices are on the rise, and consumers aren’t the only ones feeling the pinch at the pump. Soaring prices are hitting the military even harder.

The fully burdened cost of fuel at some forward operating bases in Afghanistan can be around $400 a gallon, according to Pentagon officials. And the risk to troops and equipment protecting fuel convoys from insurgents is even greater.  

Lockheed Martin’s fuel-cell technology may be one of the answers to address this growing problem.

With more than 100,000 worldwide, military generators are one of the Department of Defense’s largest gas guzzlers, powering everything from air conditioners and lights to radios and computerized command and control systems.

Potentially, fuel cells can reduce the military’s dependence on fossil fuels and help keep troops out of harm’s way. Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) technology converts fuel to electricity through a clean, quiet and efficient chemical reaction. Compared to conventional internal combustion generators, SOFC systems can reduce fuel consumption by 50 percent or more.

“Reducing our reliance on fossil fuels makes our people safer,” wrote Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in The White House Blog  on January 24. “Getting fossil fuels to our troops on the front lines is one of the most dangerous things we do...If we can reduce the number of convoys by making our systems more efficient…we make our troops safer.”

SOFC technology recently took another step closer to becoming a military reality. A major challenge for a fuel cell generator is withstanding the corrosive effect of the military’s high sulfur JP-8 (diesel) fuel. At its Akron, Ohio facility, Lockheed Martin tackled that problem by testing a fuel cell-powered generator using the standard JP-8 (diesel) fuel for 1001 consecutive hours before employees turned it off.

“Running the fuel-cell generator nearly six weeks straight is the first time a kilowatt–scale fuel cell has operated on JP-fuel for this long without complex systems to remove sulfur from the fuel,” said Steve Sinsabaugh, Lockheed Martin Fuel Cell manager.

MS2 and teammates Technology Management Inc. and Stark State College received competitive grants the past two years to mature fuel cell technology from the Ohio Third Frontier, a state program committed to creating new technology-based products, companies, industries and jobs.