UT explores hydrogen fuel, sparks government interest

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UT’s Center for Electromechanics, along with Atlanta-based Center for Transportation and the Environment, delivered two hydrogen-powered utility vehicles to the U.S. military’s largest combat support agency. The cars have a much greater range than other vehicles of their type and use “the fuel of the future,” said program manager Richard Thompson. The team increased hydrogen storage and maximized efficiency in weight, volume, cost, safety and commercialization potential. To make the vehicle as efficient as possible, the team used high-energy batteries and a high-pressure hydrogen storage unit. The team worked together to build and test the vehicles, but UT’s center developed the high-energy battery that was essential for the creation of the vehicle. “[The Department of Defense is] very interested in the use of hydrogen-fueled transportation vehicles,” Thompson said. “They want to increase its efficiency and use.” The department has access to hydrogen, so they are looking to make extended-range vehicles. While most vehicles like this get 30 miles with full charge, the new one gets 300 miles. “This project took about 10 months from the beginning to when we delivered the vehicles to Georgia,” Thompson said. “They are beginning a 12-month demonstration period at the Defense Distribution Depot.” Research associate Mike Lewis said the project’s purpose was to increase the vehicle’s range and advance hydrogen technology. “The Department of Defense and the Defense Logistics Agency are being pushed by the government right now to start implementing hydrogen-fueled vehicles,” Lewis said. “There’s a mandate to push the technology more to being a commercial project.” He said increasing the range 10-fold is a significant improvement, and the vehicle will be used daily on Robins Air Force Base in Georgia. “Their maintenance people will use them to do their normal, everyday work,” he said. UT and the Center have collaborated in the past, and their relationship goes back 10 or 15 years, said Erik Bigelow, project manager in technology for the CTE. “CTE has been working with the Federal Transit Administration for about three-and-a-half years now,” Bigelow said. “CTE has been the main project manager and got if off the ground. We put the initial project plan together and we’ve been working toward executing that.”