Marines test prototype to convert aluminum to hydrogen fuel, serving as energy source

The U.S. Marines is testing new technology that can readily produce hydrogen fuel to use as an energy source rather than relying on petroleum or batteries. 

Recently, Marines saw a demonstration of the hydrogen tactical refueling point (H-TaRP) at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The H-TaRP is a fuel-generation prototype device able to convert aluminum into hydrogen fuel. 

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) Global TechSolutions is sponsoring the project along with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory.

ONR said while batteries are effective, they could weigh a lot, making it challenging when Marines are operating in extremely harsh environments — including remote islands, hot deserts, rugged mountains and frozen, barren landscapes.

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The lighter H-TaRP is made up of an aluminum dispenser, reactor vessel, water cooling system and a control system manifold to fill an H2 tank.

"H-TaRP’s purpose is to eliminate the need for diesel fuel transport and battery charging by being able to use locally available resources to produce hydrogen fuel for all sorts of vehicles," Erik Limpacher, leader of the Energy Systems Group at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, said in a news release

MIT researchers took advantage of the reaction of aluminum mixed with water to generate hydrogen gas. They said any form of water works in the chemical reaction: salty ocean water, river water, even urine.

Researchers said this allows the H-TaRP to be used in many different environments. 

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They also pointed out that since the H-TaRP produces steam— that steam can be distilled and used for drinking and hydration.

A demonstration video showed an infantry assembling the H-TaRP in about 13 minutes. 

"Looking ahead to the 21st-century battlefield, Marines will be separated from their logistics many times," Maj. Steve Simmons, who commanded Marines during the Camp Lejeune demo, said. "We anticipate our logistic lines will be too long to be effective to provide immediate support to Marines. Looking at the battlefields for the next 100 years, we see the need for readily available resources to be converted into natural energy."

This story was reported from Los Angeles.