Electric vehicles (“EVs”) are poised to replace conventional gas-powered vehicles gradually over the next couple of decades. By discarding the century-old internal combustion engine in exchange for lithium-ion batteries and electric motors, several countries, including the United States, hope to cut down on their carbon emissions. However, a recent report commissioned by the Pentagon says that zero-emission electric cars may not be feasible for the U.S. Army, potentially locking the industry out of a market that spends big on new technologies.
Titled “Powering the US Army of the Future,” the report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine analyzed the future energy requirements of manned and unmanned vehicles and dismounted soldiers on multi-domain battlefields through 2035. Specifically, it centered on the energy needs of an armored brigade combat team that uses a combination of light vehicles, tactical vehicles and distributed soldiers. The authors of the report recommended that the army diversify the fuels it uses to run its ground vehicles but warned that battery electric vehicles and electricity are not practical.
Since the late 1970s, the Army has used JP-8, a kerosene-based jet fuel that is also used in generators, similar equipment and aircraft. Although this fuel was introduced as a replacement to diesel in an effort to standardize liquid fuel use and take advantage of economies of scale, it is not available in theater and has to be transported in times of war. During Operation Desert Storm, for instance, there was plenty of liquid fuel around locally, but the army couldn’t use it.
Committee co-chair John Koszewnik, a retired chief technical officer for Achates Power and an internal combustion engine expert, recommends using diesel fuel during wartime as well. Not only is it more energy dense, but it can also be sourced locally. By using biofuels, diesel and diesel-based fuels, the Army can shorten supply lines, make the U.S. less vulnerable and reduce supply timelines. The committee also looked at compressed and liquified hydrogen but found that these alternatives would require a significant increase in trucks to deliver the same amount of energy as diesel.
Other alternative fuels considered were synthetic aviation fuel and B100 biodiesel, but the ground vehicles would require minor modifications for those solutions to be viable. Another alternative was an unmanned JP-8/diesek powered hybrid that would run on a solid oxide fuel cell. Although ICE vehicles have it beat in terms of distribution and energy density, this particular vehicle offers benefits such as silent stealth and does away with the need for carrying heavy batteries.
Electricity and electric vehicles, on the other hand, don’t seem to be as viable. One major problem would be transporting enough electricity to the battlefield to charge ground vehicles as fast as possible. A concept for an advanced mobile microreactor dubbed “Project Pele,” for instance, wouldn’t be able to recharge a single Abrams tank in one go, requiring multiple mobile nuclear reactors to do the job. Other issues the Army would have to deal with were it to go electric include battery energy density and the safety of combat EVs.
While some resistance is to be expected from institutions that have relied on fossil fuel since their creation, the push to vehicular electrification being championed by entities such as Ideanomics Inc. (NASDAQ: IDEX) is likely to gain momentum as time goes by, and institutions such as the Army may have no option but to adapt.
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