Using Hydrogen to Power Disaster Relief

“Say a hurricane takes place somewhere in the United States. There’s no power, there’s no water. This vehicle can immediately drive to the location, and it doesn’t have to bring any extra equipment. The same fuel that allows the vehicle to drive, also powers the export power, and all you have to do is plug your equipment into the side of the truck,” said Nick Josefik, an industrial engineer with S&T partner U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Engineer Research and Development Center, Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (USACE ERDC-CERL).

When power is needed at a disaster site, the typical process is to have the Army Corps of Engineers perform a site survey and specify the placement of an appropriate diesel generator to be deployed. The generator will then be loaded onto a diesel truck, along with a driver and a couple of technicians to set up the generator. H2Rescue does not require a site survey and requires only a single driver to transport the truck to the scene. Power generation and outputting requires no additional personnel—responders can simply plug in to the H2Rescue power hookups.

H2Rescue is not simply a rescue vehicle, but also a demonstration of the hydrogen fuel cell concept in a fully functional medium-sized truck. S&T, along with its public and private partners on this project, is proving that zero-emissions doesn’t have to mean a compromise in capability.

“The truck itself, with the ability to drive from point A to point B without having to refuel, and then meeting all of the requirements for power generation in one package is something very unique,” said Ron Langhelm, who leads S&T’s Community & Infrastructure Resilience Program. “It really minimizes the complications of getting power into the disaster environment.”

In June, H2Rescue was on display at the Department of Energy in Washington, DC, an opportunity to demonstrate the working prototype to many of the stakeholders who helped make it possible. On the way to DC from California, where it was manufactured, the prototype made stops at the DOE National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado, as well as FEMA Region 8 headquarters in Denver, Colorado. NREL had the hydrogen capacity needed to fully charge the truck for the first time and evaluate its range. The high elevation proved instructive as well, with adjustments needed to accommodate the altitude.

H2Rescue is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, which chemically combines hydrogen (H2) with oxygen from the air (O2) to produce water (H2O), heat, and electricity. The electricity can be used to power a truck, a home, or anything else that needs power. And Hydrogen fuel cells are very efficient, twice as efficient as comparable diesel generators. Hydrogen is also the most plentiful element on earth, not something that will be in short supply anytime soon.  

The H2Rescue truck was built by Accelera by Cummins under a USACE ERDC-CERL cooperative agreement with funding and design assistance from S&T, the Department of Energy, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Army Ground Vehicle Power and Mobility, and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.

“This is a mark of our technological, interagency, and private partnership progress,” DOE Deputy Secretary David Turk said at the June event.

“Most people don’t realize how well government agencies can work together and how well public-private partnerships can work in terms of sharing risk, in terms of sharing vision, in terms of trying to deliver against goals,” agreed Dr. Kusnezov.

Now that H2Rescue has been prototyped and has completed successful road testing, commercialization opportunities are being investigated.

H2Rescue is demonstrating S&T’s commitment to bringing innovative, clean technologies to vital missions like disaster relief, ones that not only accomplish this mission more efficiently, but also deliver additional capabilities to the nation’s emergency responders.