AF looks at hydrogen as potential fuel source

  • Published
  • By Amanda Creel
  • 78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Few of us would ever think of pouring water down the gas tank.

However, as the Air Force continues initiatives to redefine the Air Force's energy culture, more Airmen might picture water as an energy source.

No one is going to be pouring water down our gas tanks anytime soon, but there is a possibility some members of Team Robins will be using a water-based energy, hydrogen, to meet fuel needs.

Some members of Team Robins will be some of the first Airmen to see the use of hydrogen-power in their daily lives, after the addition of a Quantum HyHauler Plus and a hydrogen-powered forklift.

Robins received the HyHauler Plus through a partnership with the U.S. Army National Automotive Center and the Air Force's Advanced Power Technology Office, which is based here.

The project would have not been feasible without the NAC and the cooperation of the 78th Air Base Wing because it allowed the office to use the expertise of its firefighters, environmental and safety specialists and members of the 78th Logistics Readiness Squadron and the 78th Civil Engineer Squadron, said Mike Mead, chief of the APTO office.

The HyHauler is a trailer-mounted hydrogen fuel dispensing system. It uses only 0.2 gallons of tap water per hour and converts that water into hydrogen using electrolysis, where it is stored in 20 two-kilogram, carbon-wrapped hydrogen storage tanks.

"It cracks the hydrogen from the water, producing hydrogen and oxygen," said Ernie Powell, APTO engineer.

The hydrogen fuel cells involved in the project can be used to fuel a vehicle or to provide electricity to a building.

The HyHauler Plus is used to both create and dispense the hydrogen. The trailer will house the hydrogen producing equipment until a permanent station can be constructed, Mr. Mead said. Not only will the station help provide hydrogen energy to different base agencies, it will also be powered using another renewable energy, solar power.

The forklift, which was an existing battery-powered standard Air Force forklift, was converted to a hydrogen-powered forklift through a joint venture with ePower Synergies and Plus Power Inc.

The HyHauler Plus produces about 2 kilograms a day, which is more than the 1.8 kilograms of hydrogen required to fuel the forklift for an eight-hour shift.

The Air Force will compare the productivity of a traditional battery-powered forklift with the one the office converted to hydrogen power.

"We will test the vehicle to ensure it meets the requirements capabilities for the Air Force," said Mike Mead, chief of Advanced Power Technology Office.

Many of the base's warehouses use the conventional battery-powered forklifts and one of these warehouses will be given the opportunity to test the practicality of switching to a hydrogen-powered forklift in other areas on the base.

"We are going to put this hydrogen forklift in a warehouse, where we plan to operate it for eight to 16 hours a day and then they can refuel it after each shift," said Scott Slyfield, program manager for the project.

The trailer functions as a "hydrogen and go" stop for the forklift. The forklift backs into position, is grounded and then is filled using a straight nozzle that is controlled by a touch screen located on the trailer.

Mr. Mead said one of the keys to implementing the alternative or renewable energy source for practical use is not requiring the users to learn new ways of doing things but to make the new energy transition transparent.

"That's the beauty of everything. It looks and operates the same as everything we have," Mr. Mead said. "It's just part of the Air Force's initiative to advance alternative fuels and energy into the Air Force's daily structure."

The office, which manages the Air Force's efforts to build a bridge from oil-based energy to the many alternative and renewable energy sources available, is responsible for bringing several other energy projects to Robins.

The APTO office is also working to cause a culture change by convincing the public we can use these alternative energy sources, Mr. Mead said.

He added the Air Force as a whole is encouraging people to "make energy a consideration in everything you do."

The team said they are aware of safety concerns when using hydrogen energy, but that the system is equipped with many safety features to ensure the members of Team Robins are safe.

"It is as safe as or safer than gas," Mr. Mead said. "Hydrogen is lighter than air, so when it spills it floats away, when gas spills on the ground it stays."

The HyHauler Plus includes a flashing light on the exterior of the trailer to alert those in the area if there is a hydrogen leak, a fan that can suck out any hydrogen leaks within the trailer, and sensors that enable the system to shutoff automatically if a hydrogen leak occurs.