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CHIPS Articles: ONR Partners with Car Industry to Test Energy-Efficient Vehicles

ONR Partners with Car Industry to Test Energy-Efficient Vehicles
By Office of Naval Research - July-September 2009
The Office of Naval Research teamed with an automobile industry leader to explore energy-efficient, environmentally-friendly viable transportation alternatives; the cutting-edge General Motors Chevrolet Equinox fuel cell vehicle (FCV) is the result of the partnership.

As the global automobile industry considers alternative energy sources to replace the traditional internal combustion engine, Jessie Pacheco, a mail clerk at Camp Pendleton, makes his rounds in a FCV. ONR has sponsored GM FCVs at Camp Pendleton since 2006, with two more scheduled to arrive later this year.

"These vehicles are the future," Pacheco said. "It's great to see people drive by me, giving me the thumb's up, and asking, 'Where can I get one?'"

"Fuel cell vehicle research is clearly a case where the Navy and Marine Corps needs are propelling advanced technology that also has potential benefit to the public," said Rear Adm. Nevin Carr, chief of naval research.

Within the Navy-Marine Corps team, ONR has researched power and energy technology for decades. Often the improvements to power generation and fuel efficiency for ships, aircraft, vehicles and installations have direct application for public benefit as well.

"There is not a drop of oil in it," explained Shad Balch, a GM representative at Camp Pendleton. "The electric motor provides maximum instant torque right from the get-go."

The efficiency of a hydrogen-powered fuel cell may prove to be twice that of an internal combustion engine, if not greater, Balch added.

From an operational perspective, the fuel cell vehicle is quiet yet powerful, emits only water vapor, uses fewer moving parts compared to a combustion engine and offers an alternative to the logistics chain associated with current military vehicles.

The addition of fuel cell vehicles to Camp Pendleton provides a glimpse into the future of advanced transportation technology which reduces reliance on petroleum products and affords environmental stewardship benefits, such as reduced air pollution and a smaller carbon footprint, for Navy and Marine Corps bases.

"Partnering with the military gives us critical feedback from a truly unique application. This will help us as we engineer our next generation of fuel cell vehicles," Balch said.

Technology underwrites solutions for both national and naval energy needs. As an ONR program officer in the 1990s, Richard Carlin, Ph.D., recognized the potential of alternative fuel research to help meet the energy challenges of the future. Today, as ONR's director of power and energy research, Carlin is pleased to see the positive reaction to the fuel cell vehicle research program.

"This is an example of where the value of investment in science and technology can really pay off," Carlin said. "Besides the potential energy savings and increased power potential of fuel cell technology, the research and testing we are doing will address challenges like hydrogen production and delivery, durability and reliability, on-board hydrogen storage and overall cost."

For example, through its testing, ONR has made advances in storage capacity necessary for achieving greater range in fuel cell automobiles.

Dave Shifler, the program manager for alternative fuels initiatives at ONR, emphasized that partnerships are essential when bringing a new technology forward.

"With the right partnerships, you can accomplish almost anything," Shifler said. "We have teamed with the Army from the beginning on this research, sharing technical support, contracting support and usage of the GM fuel cell vehicle."

ONR fuel cell research has not been limited to vehicles; it spans the operational spectrum, from ground vehicles to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), to manportable power for Marines and afloat units. Hydrogen-powered fuel cell technology is one of many programs at ONR in the power and energy research field that is helping the Navy meet the energy needs of the warfighter — and the public.

ONR's partnerships in fuel cell vehicle research include: Headquarters Marine Corps; the Marine Corps Garrison Mobile Equipment office; Southwest Region Force Transportation; Naval Facilities Engineering Service Center, Port Hueneme; Department of Energy (Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy); South Coast Air Quality Management District; California Air Resources Board; California Fuel Cell Partnership; Defense Energy Support Center, General Motors; Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division; U.S. Fuel Cell Council; U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engnieering Command/National Automotive Center (TARDEC/NAC), and Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Environment).

Through its affiliates, ONR is a leader in S&T with engagement in 50 states, 70 countries, 1,035 institutions of higher learning and 914 industry partners. ONR employs approximately 1,400 people, comprised of uniformed, civilian and contract personnel.

For more information, contact the ONR public affairs office at or (703) 696-5031.

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