ERDC-CERL helps develop novel disaster relief vehicle

Published May 4, 2023

H2@Rescue, a zero-emission, fuel-cell powered emergency disaster response vehicle

Researchers with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s (ERDC) Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) recently collaborated with government and industry partners to develop a new way to offer relief in a time of emergency and natural disasters.

The technology, a zero-emission fuel cell-powered emergency vehicle, is a culmination of work from a consortium of federal agencies and industry partners including the U.S. Department of Energy’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office and Vehicle Technologies Office, the U.S. Army Ground Vehicle Systems Center, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Science & Technology Directorate, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and Accelera™ by Cummins.  

Natural disasters are occurring at an ever-increasing rate throughout the United States. From hurricanes and forest fires to flooding and many other disaster events, there is a critical need to deploy specialty disaster relief vehicles that can provide electric power, heat, water and essential supplies to begin recovery efforts.

The zero-emission, fuel cell-powered emergency vehicle, called H2Rescue, was tested during two demonstrations of 180 mile round trip drives. The truck's high-capacity hydrogen tank system enabled it to complete an 180 mile round trip, while also supporting a minimum of 25 kW of continuous electrical load for 72 hours.

“H2Rescue was created in 2019, through a multi-agency brainstorming effort,” said Nick Josefik, an industrial engineer at CERL. “We saw a string of natural disasters affecting communities across our country, and we believed hydrogen and fuel cell technology could aid the relief effort.”

The boxed bed of the vehicle is climate controlled and can act as a mobile command center or warming/cooling space during an emergency. The fuel cell also produces water, which when treated, could be used as an asset during an emergency.

H2Rescue is a Class 7 Heavy duty boxed truck weighing approximately 33,000 pounds, which makes it Department of Transportation roadworthy. The truck carries a maximum of 176 kilograms of hydrogen at 700 bar.

“Fuel cell vehicles provide exportable power, water and medium-grade heat,” said Josefik. “The technology readiness of fuel cells and hydrogen technologies make a fuel cell-battery hybrid emergency relief vehicle a strong candidate for disaster recovery operations.”

H2Rescue was first field tested at the Accelera facility in West Sacramento, California, to analyze performance in varying topographical and climatic regions. During the demonstration, the vehicle drove from West Sacramento to Oakland, California. The180 miles of drive distance was chosen to show that the technology could support neighboring communities if they were affected by a disaster.   

“This field test showcases H2Rescue and demonstrates the vehicle’s ability to drive to distant locations and provide initial emergency power,” said Josefik.

Those involved with the test said they were very pleased with the results, and that H2Rescue met the performance goals set at the start of the project, proving that fuel cell-powered vehicles provide a viable option in emergency relief.

“H2Rescue is an exciting application for Accelera’s hydrogen fuel cell solution, and we’re proud to work alongside government partners to develop sustainable emergency aid of the future,” said Alison Trueblood, General Manager of Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Technologies at Accelera. “Hydrogen technology provides the power and range required for the demands of emergency response teams in times of disaster, and this project demonstrates the role hydrogen can play in decarbonizing critical sectors.”