Story by Senior Airman John Linzmeier
Fuel cell technology has been integrated into a Hawaii Air National Guard exercise for the first time September 8, at Kalaeloa. as part of a bilateral training event with Indonesian Forces.
The exercise entailed the deployment of a mobile, 5-kW hydrogen fuel cell generator, provided by representatives from the Hawaii Center for Advanced Transportation Technologies.
Emergency response teams were dispatched during a mock-biohazard scenario. The teams comprised of Airmen from the 154th Medical Group, Detachment 1, who were accompanied by members of the Indonesian National Armed Forces, as part of the ongoing National Guard State Partnership Program.
“This is the first time we are aware of that hydrogen fuel cell technology to generate electrical power has been used in support of domestic operations exercise like this,” said retired Brig. Gen. Stan Osserman, HCATT director. “It’s particularly exciting because we were able to share the experience with the Hawaii National Guard State Partner, Indonesia.”
During the exercise scenario, the generator was convoyed to the ‘incident site’ by medical Airmen and used to set up a decontamination tent and power its lighting systems. The use of traditional, fossil fuel generators has been ubiquitous throughout the military, which enables units, such as the 154th Medical Group, to respond to crisis in remote destinations.
Detachment 1’s mission is to respond to chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRNE) disasters, to preserve life and mitigate human suffering. The unit’s capabilities include command and control, search and rescue/extraction, providing triage, performing emergency and trauma treatment — all functions which rely on a constant power source.
“Our field of Domestic Operations lends to innovations and interoperability,” said Master Sgt. Bobbyjo Balmonte, 154th Medical Group Detachment 1, Medical Logistics NCO in charge. “Organizations like HCATT helps build the best response for Hawaii.”
Hawaii’s Congressional leaders, local government, the Air Force Research Laboratory, and the HIANG have been striving to increase their use of alternate energy sources as part of Hawaii’s clean energy initiative, with a goal set to be completely reliant on clean energy by 2045. HCATT has been demonstrating fuel cell technologies for the past two decades in an effort to eventually replace pollutive energies.
Unlike conventional generators, which release toxic emissions, the only byproducts leaving the hydrogen fuel cell generator is water, heat and energy. Rather than running on a limited source of fossil fuels, the hydrogen fuel cell generator utilizes compressed hydrogen and a fuel cell to generate both DC and AC electricity. The tested equipment is designed for emergency power applications within the telecommunications, transportation, security, military, and government sectors.
“This is a very important milestone for the Hawaii Air National Guard in using hydrogen for powering a portion of their exercise,” said retired Col. David Molinaro, HCATT project manager who provided technical support throughout the training. “The system was 100 percent reliable in supporting operations, which in an emergency response environment like CBRNE, is an absolute necessity – and doing so with renewable energy is a game changer for the National Guard.”
Molinaro added that hydrogen-based power could be advantageous in many areas of military operations, from transportation to base level utility power generation. When compared to gasoline-powered generators, the hydrogen fuel cell is significantly quieter and emits a lower heat signature, making it harder to be detected by enemy combatants.
“Imagine being able to conduct missions using hydrogen produced on or near a base,” said Molinaro. “The technology is used worldwide and is just now being looked at by the military; it’s truly the first step in mission assurance through energy assurance.”
HCATT operates under the auspice of the Air Force Research Laboratory and is currently coordinating further exercise support using hydrogen fuel cell technologies with the Hawaii National Guard.