Since 1978, the U.S. Military has been has used Jet Propellant 8 (JP-8) to fuel vehicles that range from aircraft to tanks. By the 1990s, the fuel proved itself in the eyes of military leaders and by that time the Department of Defense made efforts to replace diesel and JP-4, which was a 50/50 gasoline-kerosene mix.
Since that time, JP-8 has become the go to fuel for the U.S. Army. It is planned that JP-8 will remain in use by the military until at least 2025. Because of the military’s heavy reliance on JP-8, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory is looking to broaden its scope by converting it to hydrogen for fuel cells.
Even though JP-8 is commonly used in electrical generators, the Army contends that there are logistical issues with JP-8. Furthermore, the Army is in the market for a more efficient method of producing electrical energy.
With this need for efficient electricity production, there are various bureaucratic roadblocks that stand in the way of the military just going out and obtaining a new fuel type. The largest roadblock is the “one fuel” policy held by the Department of Defense, which basically mandates the use of JP-8 across the board. According to RUSI.org:
“The US military’s ‘one fuel’ policy mandating the use of JP8 (jet fuel) across the battlefield was a calculated decision: simplified logistics trumps performance or efficiency gains from specialized fuels.” (1)
Taking the one fuel mandate into consideration, the leader of the research team, Dr. Deryn Chu, plans to find a way to work around the policy by using JP-8 to create hydrogen for use in fuel cells for electricity production. This work around, which is known as fuel reformation, is in its early stages of research, but is being viewed as a game changer.
Dr. Dat Tran, a researcher on the team, states that one of the major problems with using JP-8 in this manner is the fact that it is riddled with impurities.
“JP-8 is a complicated and dirty fuel. The sulfur is a huge problem because it can hurt the fuel cells. Sulfur has many different compounds that behave differently. The compounds in sulfur make it hard to find an agreeable material” (2)
The idea is to create a small portable unit capable of processing JP-8 into hydrogen on the battlefield. These researchers came one step closer to this goal when they developed a palladium membrane (in 2011) to purify hydrogen-rich reformate.
According to their research, their strategy is to “use microfabrication techniques to engineer a palladium membrane supported mechanically by a Ni honeycomb grid structure”. (3) These techniques led to the development of a microfabrication/electroplating process. Nevertheless, researchers are realistic about the subject and realize that this development is only a small step in the right direction.
It is very possible that the researchers at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory are on the cusp of developing a process and a unit that would allow for the reforming of JP-8 into hydrogen for use of on-demand electricity generation. Even though this is a great achievement for the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, one has to wonder if it is truly necessary.
Because of some bureaucratic mandate, researchers are forced to use JP-8 and spend millions of dollars on how to process this dirty complex fuel to be used in fuel cells. However, if the Department of Defense would lift its one fuel policy and allow researchers to use natural gas in their research, results might be achieved more quickly. Researchers would be able to piggy-back their research on the successful research already being conducted with natural gas.