GM and U.S. Navy Work On Hydrogen Fuel Cell Powered Undersea Unmanned Vehicles

(3BL/JustMeans) Why on earth would the car company, General Motors, and the U.S. Navy team up? The answer is simple. GM and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) are working together to incorporate automotive hydrogen fuel cell systems into the Navy’s unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs). 

The NRL recently finished evaluating a prototype UUV that contained a GM fuel cell in its powertrain. The NRL conducted the tests at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Carderock, Maryland. The in-water experiments revealed that fuel cells and UUVs have a bright future. Energy is a core technology in the ONR’s Innovative Naval Prototype program for Large Displacement UUVs. 

GM’s collaboration with the Navy leverages what the car company has learned in its Project Driveway fuel cell program. Launched in 2007, the program allowed over 5,000 consumers in certain U.S. cities to test drive the fuel cell equipped Chevrolet Equinoxes for over three million miles. The collaboration with the Navy will provide GM with more knowledge about the performance of fuel cells and help the company reach its goals to offer fuel cell vehicles to its customers. 

The collaboration with the Navy is not GM’s first with a U.S. military branch. In November, GM announced its partnership with the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development & Engineering Center (TARDEC) to modify a Chevrolet Colorado pickup truck to run on a commercial hydrogen fuel cell propulsion system and expose it to daily military use for 12 months. GM and TARDEC both have fuel cell development and research facilities only 20 minutes apart in Pontiac and Warren, Michigan. They have collaborated to evaluate new fuel cell designs and materials. 

GM leads all U.S. companies in clean-energy patents granted since 2002. It has received over 700 patents in fuel cell technologies since 2002, more than other companies. The car company is collaborating with Honda to develop next generation fuel cell systems and storage technologies by 2020. Honda already has a car featuring fuel cell technology, the Clarity. It has an estimated driving range of over 300 miles. 
Hydrogen fuel cells, which convert hydrogen into electricity, are one of the cleanest fuels available. They avoid petroleum use and carbon dioxide emissions. It is possible for fuel cell vehicles to operated on renewable energy such as wind or biomass which is stored and used later. Water vapor is the only emission that results. Recharging takes minutes and fuel cell vehicles can go much longer on one charge that battery powered ones. 

Given the environmental benefits, other car companies have developed fuel cell vehicles. Honda starting selling them in Japan this spring, and will sell in the U.S. (only in California in late 2016.; California already has hydrogen infrastructure in place). Toyota has the Mirai, which means future in Japanese, and also has a driving range of around 300 miles. The company started selling the vehicle in Japan in December 2015 and in California last year. 

Photo: Flickr/Office of Naval Research