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Will Military Necessity Push Hybrid Vehicle Development?


The U.S. Army's Clandestine Extended Range Vehicle (CERV). Image: Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies

The U.S. Army's Clandestine Extended Range Vehicle (CERV). Image: Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies

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Delivering fuel on a battlefield is a difficult and dangerous proposition, not to mention the logistical challenges of getting the fuel there in the first place.

A better solution for military vehicles would be battery electric power, or even battery electric power with a range-extending, internal-combustion-engine-powered generator.

And the U.S. military is putting significant effort into getting hybrid and range-extended vehicles to the point where they can reliably be deployed.

The Clandestine Extended Range Vehicle (CERV) shown at left is a good example of the military's latest efforts in hybrid research and development. Featuring a diesel hybrid-electric drivetrain, the CERV can hit 80 miles per hour and climb a 60 percent grade, while using 25 percent less fuel than a comparable but non-hybrid vehicle.

For the military, battery technology has not yet advanced to the point where electric vehicles are a practical battlefield solution.  Military vehicles on deployment require from 40 to 90 kilowatts of power just to run needed accessories and communications gear.

Add to that the power required to move a vehicle along a route for extended distances, and battery power simply isn’t an alternative today. As Lennart Jonsson, CTO of Eaton Corp., explained to Off Highway Engineering, “lithium-ion batteries aren’t yet completely ready for things like (military) plug-in hybrids.”

The complexity of hybrid and electric vehicles poses another challenge on the battlefield. A significant amount of retraining would be required for today’s motor pool mechanics to become comfortable with hybrid drive systems, which will also require significant stockpiles of additional spare parts.

In locations like Afghanistan, where the literacy rate is around 20 percent, retraining foreign military personnel to service complex vehicles poses its own challenges.To simplify maintenance and repair, future military vehicles will need to be more modular and will need to use a level of prognostics to predict failures before they occur.

What does this mean for the average consumer?

Advances in designing hybrids and extended range electric vehicles for battlefield conditions will ultimately trickle down to consumer products, ensuring that the next generation of hybrid vehicles is even more robust and reliable than those available today.

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