The US Army is always on the alert for new technology that will help it accomplish its mission. Often in today’s world, small detachments of troops are required to operate independently far from established bases. Many such areas have no electricity and no water available. Vehicles with internal combustion engines also have two noticeable drawbacks. They are noisy and they make a lot of excess heat. Both make it difficult for Army teams to move about undetected by the enemy.
Working with the U.S. Army Automotive Research, Development, and Engineering Center, Chevrolet has built a heavily modified Colorado pickup called the ZH2 that will soon undergo field testing. Looking like a younger, beefier brother to the the venerable HUMVEE, the Colorado ZH2 features a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain that offers several advantages in military use. The testing will focus on “near-silent operation,” “reduced acoustic and thermal signatures,” “high wheel torque at all speeds,” “low fuel consumption across operating range,” and “water by-product for field uses.”
One characteristic of all electric vehicles is instantaneous torque at low speeds. That’s important to the Army as it looks for a vehicle that can move heavy loads over rough terrain. The fact that the powertrain is nearly silent and has a low heat signature is also important. But there are other less obvious advantages to a fuel cell powered vehicle. It can generate electricity in the field and provide troops with fresh water when none is available.
“One of the things we started testing about 10 years ago is this exportable power take-off,” explains GM Executive Director of Global Fuel Cell Activities Charlie Freese. “Whether you’re using the vehicle in a site where you have no access to plug-in power, or if you’re a camper, or if you’re in this military environment, the ability to export 25 kW continuous, or up to 50 kW at its peak, is a really great functionality that comes out of this fuel cell system.”
GM developed the Colorado ZH2 in less than a year. It has been working on fuel cell technology for more than a decade and that allowed it to convert the Colorado to fuel cell operation in record time. Internal GM preparation of the vehicle will continue into next year, at which time it will be handed over to the Army for a full year of field trials.
And here’s another possibility. With America’s mania for in your face trucks, if Chevrolet offered a civilian version of the ZH2, with or without the fuel cell powertrain, these brutalized behemoths with their 37″ wheels would fly off the lot. Just the thing for camping trips or motoring on down to Home Depot to pick up a box of finish nails!