US Marines often operate in extremely harsh environments – including remote islands, hot deserts, rugged mountains, and frozen, arid landscapes.

While these fighters use sophisticated and technologically superior equipment and weapons in the field, these tools require vast amounts of fuel and power to operate – a tough demand in austere operational environments.

To address this problem, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Global TechSolutions program is sponsoring efforts by the Lincoln Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to convert aluminum into hydrogen, which could potentially serve as an energy source. portable and readily available.

TechSolutions is ONR Global’s rapid-response science and technology program that develops prototype technologies to solve problems expressed by Sailors and Marines, typically within approximately 12 months of project initiation.

The Marines recently attended a demonstration of a TechSolutions project involving a prototype fuel-generating device – called the Hydrogen Tactical Refueling Point (H-TaRP) – at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Part of this demonstration included Marines learning how to assemble the H-TaRP as well as a static demonstration of how the H-TaRP equipment works. The Marines learned how to produce hydrogen with H-TaRP.

“ONR Global TechSolutions became involved in H-TaRP when Marines expressed a desire to obtain fuel in an expeditionary environment,” said Jason Payne, ONR Global TechSolutions program manager. “TechSolutions took the concept and approached our vendor network to create this solution, and MIT was chosen through a competitive process. TechSolutions provided the resources to develop a proof-of-concept prototype.

When Marines are in the field, their energy options are normally petroleum or battery based. Batteries are efficient but can be heavy and need to be constantly recharged via a power source.

H-TaRP – which includes an aluminum distributor, reactor vessel, water cooling system and control system manifold to fill an H2 tank – can solve these energy problems with a lighter, nimble system that will ultimately alleviate the charge of the Marines.

“The goal of H-TaRP is to eliminate the need for diesel fuel transportation and battery charging by being able to use locally available resources to produce hydrogen for all kinds of vehicles,” said Erik Limpacher. , head of the Energy Systems group at MIT Lincoln Laboratory. .

Using simple chemistry, MIT researchers exploited the reaction of aluminum mixed with water to generate hydrogen gas. Any form of water works in the chemical reaction: salt water from the ocean, water from rivers, even urine. This allows H-TaRP to potentially be used in many different environments.

Additionally, since the vapor remains after the hydrogen creation process, it is available to be distilled and used for drinking and hydration.

This energy logistics model has many advantages over traditional liquid fuels. The use of this special aluminum as a precursor to hydrogen allows the storage and transport of an inert solid instead of a liquid fuel or pressurized gas, which greatly improves safety. Hydrogen gas is also compatible with the use of the fuel cell, which does not generate the sound and heat signature associated with internal combustion engines.

“Looking ahead to the 21st century battlefield, Marines will be separated from their logistics many times over,” said Major Steve Simmons, who commanded the Marines at the Camp Lejeune demonstration. “We anticipate that our logistics lines will be too long to be effective in providing immediate support to the Marines. Looking at the battlefields for the next 100 years, we see the need for readily available resources to convert into natural energy.

During the demonstration, junior infantry Marines were given a brief tutorial on assembling the H-TaRP system, and fireteams of up to four combatants practiced assembling it several times. After one iteration, they assembled the system in just 13 minutes, showing that the H-TaRP device could be deployed quickly with minimal training. The Marines also provided feedback and advice and showed MIT engineers a two-man assembly process for their system.

Future plans for H-TaRP involve extended operation and generation of high-pressure H2, as well as downsizing the device by 50%, aligning it with the Commander of the Marine Corps’ vision to field units marines with greater mobility and agility.