Army receives keys to Fuel Cell Colorado ZH2, Gov. Snyder takes ride

Both Gov. Rick Snyder and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters were all smiles after crashing over hills and splashing through muddy ponds in the military’s newest prototype vehicle at the General Motors Proving Grounds in Milford.

The Colorado ZH2, featuring a subdued camouflage paint job and built from a beefed up pickup chassis with 37-inch tires and a highly modified suspension, is powered by a hydrogen power plant developed by GM and the U.S. Army’s Tank Automotive Research Development Center (TARDEC) based in Warren.

The Army will evaluate the ZH2 vehicle and hydrogen fuel cell technology for the next year in extreme field conditions to assess its military readiness and potential uses. According to IHS Jane’s Defense Review, both the GM and the army will collect subjective soldier feedback as well as objective technical data.

Before their test ride, both Snyder and Peters spoke at the handoff ceremony.

This proves once again that Michigan “is center of the auto industry,” Snyder said. “This is just a continuation of how we can give our military the best tools in the world.”

Peters said the project shows that Michigan has opportunities to be a leader in advanced technologies.

“This is an example of it,” he said. “It’s a new power plant system that will provide operation forces great advantages.”

Over a year ago, the TARDEC team decided some of the things GM was working on could have interesting military applications, said Charlie Freese, executive director of GM’s Global Fuel Cell Activities.

“This fuel cell technology, over the past decade, has been heading on a very rapid trajectory,” he said. “This has been a great partnership. It’s a very good way to couple the automotive technology investment with what the military needs to find solutions.”

The Colorado ZH2 contains a hydrogen fuel cell that works by storing compressed gas in high-pressure tanks. The gas passes through a fuel cell stack that mixes the hydrogen with oxygen to generate an electric current. The electricity is then used to power one or more electric motors on the vehicle. Residual water vapor is the only thing emitted from the exhaust pipe. The fuel cell can provide power for equipment beyond the vehicle itself.

Among the tests will be whether the ZH2 vehicle and fuel cell can provide near-silent operation for information and intelligence gathering activities, reduced acoustic and thermal signatures for increased stealth, higher torque at all speeds via its electric drive, decreased fuel consumption in the field and whether the water by-products are fit for field use.

The lone prototype of the Colorado ZH2 was assembled at GM’s Advanced Vehicle Integration facility in Warren, near the headquarters for TARDEC. The ZH2 was first revealed in October 2016 at the fall meeting of the Association of the United States Army in Washington D.C. The vehicle was developed following a 2015 agreement between TARDEC and GM, according to the U.S. Army. Neither partner would reveal the cost of developing the ZH2.

“This technology is about generating an electric power plant but has immediate benefits to our military. It’s very quiet and can go through incredibly tough terrain,” Sen. Peters said. “A vehicle like this could power a field hospital. It works as a mini power plant.

Gov. Snyder said using this technology to help the military is a “wonderful application”.

“Personally, I’m a proud nerd,” said Gov. Snyder. “To have a product like this coming together through the partnership between GM and TARDEC … This is something that I wish we could have many more Michiganders and Americans see.”

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