Fuel cells vehicles are in the Army now

The U.S. Army's newest recruit is a fuel-cell-powered pickup from General Motors.

GM, which has a long history of building military vehicles, said the crew cab Chevrolet Silverado, which joined up on Friday, is the first fuel-cell-powered truck to enter U.S. military service. Boot camp for the experimental pickup will include testing in different climates and locations around the United States, and will last until July 2006, the Army and GM said in a statement. The truck's three compressed-hydrogen storage tanks give it a range of 125 miles.

The hydrogen-powered Silverado will stay largely out of harm's way, as its primary role will be to deliver packages. But knowledge gained through testing could help pave the way for eventual use of fuel-cell-powered vehicles in combat roles, GM said.

The Army appears to be looking at fuel cells for the same reasons as other branches of the U.S. government: finding alternatives to gasoline or diesel fuel engines. Fuel cells convert hydrogen into electricity, which can power electric motors that replace gas or diesel engines in cars and trucks. But automotive fuel cells, as well the mass production of hydrogen and its distribution, are all still in relatively early stages of development.

GM and others are pressing forward. The auto giant announced earlier this week that it will work with the U.S. Department of Energy on fuel-cell vehicle development. But it will be some time before large numbers of vehicles like the fuel-cell Silverado hit America's highways or defend its borders.

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    John Spooner
    covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
     

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