Hybrid Humvee coming up over the horizon

U.S. Army contracts with EnerDel to develop a lithium-ion battery system strong enough for use in a hybrid version of its iconic truck.

Candace Lombardi
In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.
Candace Lombardi
3 min read
A Humvee made by American General. AM General

Lithium-ion battery manufacturer EnerDel has signed an 18-month, $1.29 million contract with the U.S. Army to design and test hybrid battery options for the Humvee.

Trying to power the iconic fuel-guzzling High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV aka Humvee) with a battery, may seem like trying to put out a fire with a garden hose. But a lithium-ion battery system can deliver a lot of power from a battery quickly, giving a truck like the Humvee the thrust it requires.

EnerDel, a subsidiary of Ener1, will collaborate with the U.S. Army's Tank Automotive Research, Development, and Engineering Center (TARDEC) on four possible power systems that could be implemented in the XM1124 version of the Humvee.

The company, which specializes in battery cell chemistry as well as the electronics and battery system designs, said it already has two viable options. EnerDel has developed a lithium-tatinate system in conjunction with Argonne National Laboratorythat could accommodate the acceleration and hard braking required for such a powerful vehicle like the Humvee. It also has a lithium-manganese system that would give a vehicle extra-long range and allow electronics to be run off the battery for extended periods of time before needing to be recharged.

As part of the 18-month contract, EnerDel will also be involved in testing the systems under "extreme performance simulations." In addition to putting the test vehicles through the usual Humvee paces of wading through water and mountain climbing, there will also be an endurance test.

That will include seeing how a hybrid Humvee fares as a power plant for a field hospital or temporary military post. The requirement makes perfect sense given the ease with which a Humvee can be transported to hard-to-reach areas. One of its key features has always been that it could be dropped in to virtually any terrain by parachute.

A Humvee being parachuted out of a plane. AM General

The hybrid Humvee will also be more stealthy. Anyone who's had a close call with a Prius knows how dangerously silent hybrids can be in total battery mode. The hybrid version of the Humvee will have a powered-down "silent watch" mode that will allow it to run with its diesel generator off, reducing not only its noise, but also its thermal signature to avoid detection.

As always with major military project announcements, the company involved was quick to point out the down-the-road commercial application of its technology.

"In keeping with a long tradition, we also expect that innovations perfected here will have important benefits for the commercial markets," EnerDel President Rick Stanley said in a a statement.

There has already been interest in Raser Technologies' H3E, a plug-in hybrid version of a Hummer-branded SUV called the H3. While not truly a Hummer (the civilian version of the Humvee), the "Hummer-light" descendant has garnered the interest of even the most discerning Hummer enthusiasts.

So if EnerDel's batteries might be good enough to power a Hummvee, why haven't commercial automakers been knocking? They have actually. The company has signed research partnerships of varying commitment levels with Think Global, Fisker Automotive, Volvo, and Nissan. Its parent company, Ener1, is also working with U.S. utilities to develop smart grid storage units.