GM debuts electric power with explosive potential

By Author: Carolyn Briggs, Date: Oct 07, 2016

I swore this morning that I would not write another electric vehicle story for a few days. But then something happens, something so cool, so innovative, and so dangerous that I just have to go back on my promise. So we’re traveling down this road again (with minimal emissions).

It’s Chevrolet and General Motors again, making big headlines on the EV landscape. But this time the star of the show isn’t the battery, it’s a fuel cell.

Earlier this week General Motors revealed the Colorado ZH2. That’s right, a hydrogen powered truck. Designed specifically for off-roading for the military.

It looks like an Army car. This thing is freaking huge. GM took a midsize pickup chassis and stretched it out to more than 7 feet wide. It stands 6.5 feet tall, so it’s about the height of your average college basketball player. The tires are 37 inches, attached to a specifically designed suspension, which will allow the vehicle to get wherever the action might be.

This car is a bull, more imposing and intimidating than anything we’ve seen in awhile.

The truck will feature an Exportable Power Take-Off unit, which allows the fuel cell power things away from the car. Now, I’d sure love this when I’m late on a deadline, but I’m sure in the remote locations and extreme conditions they face in the US military this would be a complete game changer.

No need to haul heavy, loud generators 100 miles into the desert. In the eternally wise words of Buster Bluth, that would be good for Army.

Maybe even more important than the power capabilities is the byproduct of this type of power: Hydrogen fuel cells produce water. Again, 100 miles into the desert you’re going to want a water source.

And I know what you’re thinking. Is off-roading in a hydrogen powered car going to be safe? We’ve all heard of the Hindenburg, and I think most soldiers are already dealing with enough explosions.
The chance for disaster certainly exists here, and that’s why we’ll do some testing. GM has already logged 3.1 million miles with their 119-vehicle hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered fleet, but that’s not nearly enough.

The US Army will put the car through a year of field testing in “extreme field conditions,” and frankly, I’m just not tough enough to even imagine what that could mean. The end goal? To determine the viability of the Colorado ZH2 for military applications — but also the viability of hydrogen power in general.

This isn’t the first hydrogen powered military vehicle GM has put out this year. Earlier this summer the US Navy unveiled an Unmanned Undersea Vehicle, powered with the same fuel cell technology. The sub is currently in pool testing, but the end goal for this is deployment. Which I’ll admit I’m a little less nervous about. A hydrogen explosion would cause way less damage leagues under the ocean.

“The speed with which innovative ideas can be demonstrated and assessed is why relationships with industry are so important to the Army,” said Paul Rogers, director of the US Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center. “Fuel cells have the potential to expand the capabilities of Army vehicles significantly through quiet operation, exportable power and solid torque performance, all advances that drove us to investigate this technology further.”

If the cell makes it through rigorous Army and Navy testing without incident, we might start to see other applications for the fuel cell. Hydrogen power is cheap, and easily accessible. Finding a way to make it safe could genuinely change the way we power our lives.

Carolyn Briggs

I grew up on the road. As a child, my family took regular trips from Wisconsin to both coasts. That's how I've seen most of this country — through the window of a car. Years later, I still feel that excitement when I toss my bags in the trunk and get behind the wheel. That's how seeing something new always begins. I've scaled mountains, dived with sharks, and stepped to the very edge of the Grand Canyon, all because I spent hours in a car. This site combines my passion for the road with my actual talent — communication and journalism. In college I rose to the position of managing editor for The Badger Herald, the largest independent student newspaper in the country at the time. I spent a year after graduating in social media marketing before moving off the grid to explore the wild beauty of West Virginia.

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