Army, General Motors sign partnership

TARDEC Director Dr. Paul Rogers, U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, GM's Charlie Freese and U.S. Rep. Sander Levin cut the ribbon on the three Fuel Cell Automated Testing Systems which will be shared by TARDEC and GM through a CRADA.

TARDEC Director Dr. Paul Rogers, U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, GM’s Charlie Freese and U.S.
Rep. Sander Levin cut the ribbon on the three Fuel Cell Automated Testing Systems
which will be shared by TARDEC and GM through a CRADA. (U.S. Army photo)

TARDEC Public Affairs

Army officials formalized a major new research partnership with General Motors in a Dec. 16, 2013 ceremony near Detroit.

U.S. Sen. Carl Levin and U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, both of Michigan, joined U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center Director Dr. Paul Rogers and Charlie Freese, General Motors global fuel cell activities executive director in a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the Ground Systems Power and Energy Laboratory at the Detroit Arsenal.

GM and TARDEC will share three Fuel Cell Automated Testing Systems to evaluate and demonstrate hydrogen fuel cell technology. Sen. Levin emphasized the importance of these two respected partners working toward a common goal — clean energy.

“All across the world, companies and governments are hoping to build the next ‘Detroit’ — the next international center of innovation and middle-class prosperity,” Levin said. “This [agreement] is about assuring that the next ‘Detroit’ stays right here in Michigan. This is a competition we cannot afford to lose for the sake of our troops, our economy, our security and the environment.”

Speakers at the ceremony reflected on the long-term impact of CRADAs, which have aligned government, private sector and academic partners to optimize resources and accelerate advancements for at least 20 years. Levin was instrumental in the creation of the U.S. Federal Technology Transfer Act of 1986 — the law that established the Federal Laboratory Consortium and enabled federal labs to enter into CRADAs and negotiate licenses for patented inventions made in the lab.

Rogers pointed out that TARDEC has entered into 327 CRADAs since its first blanket agreement to work with the GM, Ford and Chrysler in 1993, and has 64 active agreements with industry and academic sources today.

“This agreement with GM offers the U.S. Army a unique opportunity to collaborate with a phenomenal partner — a partner that is a world innovator in automotive technologies,” Rogers said. “The laboratory is our meeting place where we can bring the best and brightest ideas from government and industry to solve the hardest problems the military faces.”

These dual-use arrangements make sense for the region’s economy, Levin said.

“Twenty years ago, an engineer here told me, ‘engineering is a contact sport.’ It’s not enough to share data and information through technical papers, conferences and word of mouth,” Levin said. “Engineers are hands-on folks. They want to bounce ideas off each other. They need to work next to each other to discuss and debate the best approaches to tough problems. Many of us have been working to bring together players in this contact sport, here in Southeast Michigan — the most important hub of vehicle innovation on earth.”

Growing the Technology Hydrogen fuel cells are a dual-use technology with benefits for both partners. GM plans to use the research results to build its portfolio of alternative energy vehicles for the automotive market. The automaker began its Project Driveway demonstration in 2007, when it released 119 fuel-cell powered Chevrolet Equinox vehicles on the road. Those vehicles have collectively driven nearly 3 million miles, saved 157,894 gallons of gasoline and avoided more than $552,631 in fuel costs, according to GM estimates.

In the military domain, engineers are developing fuel cell technology to use for auxiliary power units that reformulate JP-8 fuel into hydrogen, which can then be converted into electricity. This conversion process can provide quiet, efficient onboard power for in-vehicle electronic systems or robots. TARDEC engineers are working on a hydrogen fuel cell demonstrator to assess its readiness level for insertion in an Abrams tank. The demonstrator consists of two parts — one section reformulates the JP-8 fuel used in military vehicles into hydrogen, and then the fuel cell stacks convert the hydrogen into electric power.

TARDEC engineers say that conversion would lead to a projected 33 percent savings in fuel use (versus running in-vehicle electronics off the main engine) and provide quieter operation.

“These fuel cell test stands are capable of testing a 10-kilowatt system, which is about one-tenth the size of a fuel-cell system that goes into a car,” explained TARDEC Engineer Herbert Dobbs. “By testing a subscale system like this, we can affordably experiment with variations for the best performance, durability, efficiency and cost. It helps us understand the military potential of fuel cell technology.”

Hydrogen fuel-cell technology has already been propelled by joint research.

“On a morning like today, with single-digit temperatures, you can turn the key in one of those vehicles and it will start in the cold — just 10 years ago, that was impossible,” Freese said. “Through CRADAs like this one, we learn as partners how to advance these important technologies.”

The TARDEC-GM CRADA will be in effect until February 2016.

TARDEC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America’s Soldiers.

RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army’s premier provider of materiel readiness — technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment — to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.