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Mobile Tactical Battlefield Charging: Hydrogen vs JP-8/Battery Solutions

The US military is moving away from fossil fuels and towards more sustainable energy solutions. However, the transition towards making military operations more sustainable, including the Army's tactical deployments, is complex. Some important points to note:

  • The US military is currently the single biggest user of petroleum products in the world.

  • Over the past four decades, transporting fuel has posed the greatest risk to service members in conflicts.

  • The Army’s Climate Strategy document outlines its goals of having a fully hybrid-drive electric vehicle (EV) fleet by 2035 and a fully electric tactical vehicle fleet by 2050.

  • Despite R&D spending on alternative solutions running to tens of billions, effective sustainable energy solutions are still some way off.

There are several factors currently affecting the military’s ability to ensure there is no reduction in operational capacity and preventing the introduction of new risks associated with sustainable energy, including:

  • Logistics: Charging stations, especially ones delivering high output to multiple vehicles, are large and stationary, as are sustainable solutions such as on-site (wind or solar) generation. This hampers military mobility. 

  • Energy Density: Currently, there is no substitute for JP-8's energy density, meaning any fuel alternative would require more trips to deliver the same energy.

  • Infrastructure: Installing new charging capacity for vehicles requires retrofitting existing bases and designing new transport and shipping capacity.

  • Strategic Vulnerabilities: Large amounts of hydrogen, solar PV panels, or mini-nuclear plants could become obvious targets for adversaries.

Hydrogen, with its high gravimetric energy density (142 MJ/kg), has been touted as a potential replacement for JP-8 and mobile hydrogen charging systems seem to be a viable replacement for JP-8 refueling. This also depends on whether the fuel was transported to the battlefield or produced near the point of use.

However, the technology is not yet mature enough and faces considerable challenges, meaning an interim mobile tactical battlefield recharger is required to bridge the gap as the military transitions. Here, we will assess the challenges of a mobile hydrogen charging system versus a hybrid charging solution utilizing JP-8 and battery storage.

Generated image of a hydrogen plant

The Challenges for Hydrogen Fuel

  1. Storage and Transportation: Hydrogen requires high-pressure tanks for storage and transportation, or it must be stored as a liquid in cryogenic tanks, both of which pose significant logistical challenges in a battlefield scenario. Transporting hydrogen to the battlefield requires four to seven times as many supply trucks to deliver the same energy. The infrastructure for refueling with hydrogen is also less developed than that for conventional fuels, making it difficult to deploy widely in field conditions.

  2. Energy Density: While hydrogen has a high energy density by weight, its energy density by volume is relatively low compared to conventional fuels like JP-8, at only 14%-27% of the same weight/energy ratio. This means more space is needed to store the same amount of energy, which is a significant drawback for mobile operations and forward operating bases where space is at a premium.

  3. Supply Lines: Hydrogen production, storage, and distribution infrastructure is less mature or widespread than conventional fuels. Establishing additional supply lines and manufacturing capabilities in or near the battlefield increases the risk of disruption by adversarial actions.

  4. Technological Maturity: Hydrogen fuel cell technology, while advancing, is not as mature or cost-effective as internal combustion engine technology, especially when considering the rugged and varied conditions of military deployments. A particular issue is that hydrogen must be kept cooled (down to −253°C) or compressed (to 3,000 to 10,000 psi), making storage and transport equipment bulky.

Advantages of a Hybrid JP-8 and Battery Solution

Internal drawing of the JP-8 system
  1. Availability of JP-8: Hybrid systems use generators to charge vehicles directly and batteries for backup storage and intermittent supply. Since the military already uses JP-8 as a universal fuel for various applications, from vehicles to generators, the supply lines and infrastructure for JP-8 are well-established, making it a readily available energy source for hybrid systems.

  2. Energy Density: JP-8's high energy density allows for more compact and efficient storage and transportation, crucial for operational flexibility and mobility in tactical deployments. Reducing transportation requirements directly impacts operational risk and service member safety.

  3. Hybrid Efficiency: A hybrid system that combines JP-8 powered generators with battery storage can offer significant operational advantages. It can reduce fuel consumption by optimizing engine efficiency and leveraging battery power for silent watch capabilities, which is critical for reducing the logistical footprint and enhancing stealth capabilities.

  4. Flexibility and Redundancy: Hybrid systems provide operational flexibility, allowing the military to leverage the existing JP-8 logistics network while incorporating advanced battery technologies for improved efficiency and reduced emissions. A hybrid system that incorporates batteries can incorporate other power sources (such as on-site generation or mains grid power) when available. This redundancy enhances operational resilience and reduces the risk of power failure or enemy attacks.

The Mobile Tactical Battlefield Recharger


While hydrogen technology offers promising pathways toward achieving climate goals due to its clean combustion and potential for renewable production, the current technological and logistical challenges make it less feasible for immediate widespread deployment in tactical military operations. 

By contrast, a hybrid solution that utilizes the existing logistics and supply networks for JP-8, coupled with advanced battery storage, offers a more practical and immediately implementable approach to improving energy efficiency and reducing the carbon footprint in line with the Army's climate goals and the DoD’s Climate Adaptation Plan. This approach leverages both technologies' strengths while mitigating their weaknesses, offering a balanced solution for the near to medium term.

The Mobile Tactical Battlefield Recharger (MTBR) is a highly innovative EV charger developed by Enercon and Czero. It fits in a standard ISO container and can be easily loaded and unloaded from a transport truck so it can go wherever the Army does. The MTBR is more efficient than conventional gensets, has five operating modes, and can connect to local grids or run off battery power.

To find out more about the MTBR and military power solutions, including microgrids, provided by Enercon, get in touch today. To watch an overview of the MTBR, click here. 

The Mobile Tactical Battlefield Recharger with military EVs

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