US Army orders hydrogen production system from General Dynamics

The US Army has placed an order with General Dynamics Electromagnetic Systems fora solution to produce hydrogen usable by its vehicles from water found on site by the mechanized unit. This solution would, according to its promoters, eliminate the need to transport significant reserves of hydrogen to power vehicle fuel cells. In addition to the purely security aspects, hydrogen being a highly flammable and explosive gas, this process would make it possible to simplify the logistics chain concerning vehicle fuel, a critical subject while the notions of front line and mobility of forces have evolved significantly. these last decades.

In fact, several companies have managed to develop, in recent years around the world, economical and stable processes for producing hydrogen in quantity using so-called “simplified electrolysis” systems. Traditionally, the production of hydrogen by electrolysis required a very expensive and complex membrane to use to prevent hydrogen and oxygen molecules from water molecules from mixing and ultimately exploding. To solve the problem, the researchers used one of the specificities of fluid mechanics, by subjecting the gases thus produced to the magnetic field produced by the electrodes, making it possible to separate the two gases, without it being necessary to use the famous membrane. To do this, however, it is required that the two electrodes be very close, of the order of a few tens of microns.

In addition to the purely economic interest of such a process, because it eliminates the membrane which is both expensive and has a limited lifespan, it allows the use of much more varied ionic solutions, whereas membranes only work in solutions with a very acidic pH. In fact, it becomes possible to produce hydrogen with water accessible in situ, whether it is weakly mineralized, or even alkaline, like sea water.

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Traditionally, the electrolysis of water into hydrogen and oxygen required an expensive polymer membrane with a limited lifespan.

However, nothing is said about the energy supply for this process. In the civil sector, the interest in these processes is mainly linked to the clean energy storage capacities that they represent, from electricity produced by non-storable processes, such as wind or solar power. It therefore makes it possible to adapt production to demand, notwithstanding external factors in the production of electrical energy (wind, sun, etc.). But in an operational context, the need for stored energy is immediate and massive. There is therefore no question of being satisfied with solar or wind production to build up the hydrogen reserves necessary for the maneuver.

However, the production of electrical energy by fuel generator would consume as much fuel as it would replace, or even more. In fact, as long as there is no transportable and autonomous electricity production solution, this solution will be limited to supplying established stations, having been able to deploy solar panels and/or wind turbines, the only production capacities in the valid times for these technologies. We can imagine that solutions based on batteries could make it possible to give certainly limited autonomy to moving units, but the solution seems impractical, and above all very expensive.

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The advanced solution could allow advanced posts to have a certain energy autonomy, even being able to produce the fuel necessary for its vehicles.

The fact remains that this approach can make it possible to supply energy to advanced posts in isolated areas, as there were many in Afghanistan for example, and to provide "fuel" for the vehicles used by these posts, certainly simplifying , energy supply. On the other hand, this technology should not, in the short or medium term, represent a viable alternative to the use of fossil fuels, which continue to have unique properties making them indispensable for a long time. Maybe someday ….

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