Redefining the Air Force's Energy Culture

Few car owners would ever think of pouring water down the gas tank; however, as Air Force officials here continue initiatives to redefine the Air Force's energy culture, more Airmen might picture water as an energy source.

Some Robins Air Force Base Airmen may be among the first to see the use of hydrogen-power in their daily lives, after the recent addition of a Quantum HyHauler Plus and a hydrogen-powered forklift.

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

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, an 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 create and dispense the hydrogen. The trailer will house the hydrogen producing equipment until a permanent station can be constructed, said Mike Mead, the APTO office chief. Not only will the station help provide hydrogen energy to different base agencies; but also it will be powered using another renewable energy -- solar power.

Officials already have applied the technology to a standard, battery-powered forklift. Through a joint venture with ePower Synergies and Plus Power Inc., workers converted it to a hydrogen-powered forklift.

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.

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

"We will test the vehicle to ensure it meets the requirements capabilities for the Air Force," Mr. Mead said.

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 refuel it after each shift," said Scott Slyfield, the project program manager.

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

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 base members are safe.

"Hydrogen is lighter than air, so when it spills it floats away. When gas spills on the ground, it stays," Mr. Mead said.

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.

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