By Jeremy S. Buddemeier, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Public AffairsApril 6, 2009
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii - Cars pass James Jefferson as he putts along at 20 mph down the East Range's Higgins Road, but he doesn't mind.
"It's kinda fun to drive," said Jefferson, chief, Transportation Division, Directorate of Logistics (DOL).
Although Jefferson's golf-cart-sized "neighborhood electric vehicle" (NEV) is slow by most gas-powered standards, it's gaining momentum.
As part of an Armywide initiative to "go green" by reducing carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuels, the Army will acquire 4,000 NEVs by 2011. Eight hundred are set to hit the streets of Army posts this year.
Thirty-two of those 800 have been allotted for Installation Management Command (IMCOM)-Pacific Region, according to Kelii Bright, logistics management specialist, IMCOM-Pacific.
The DOL recently received four NEVs, which it distributed to the Maintenance and Supply and Services divisions, here, and the DOL branch at Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island.
The two-passenger vehicles, which are basically "suped-up" golf carts, are powered by eight rechargeable batteries that fit neatly under a bench-style front seat.
The back seat has been replaced by a 3 by 4 foot flatbed with removable metal side gates. The NEV's batteries can be charged using a standard 110-volt electrical outlet.
Though the vehicles can only travel about 30 miles following an eight-hour charge, Lt. Col. Ann von Recum, director, DOL, said they are perfect for day-to-day repairs around post. The initial hurdle will be changing people's mindset, she said.
"Just because you're going to Schofield doesn't mean you have to take a gas-powered vehicle," von Recum said.
Jefferson agreed, and said, although travel might seem like an inconvenience at first, once people are exposed to NEVs, they'll come around.
In addition to NEVs, the Army in Hawaii is also leading the way toward a sustainable transportation future with hydrogen vehicles.
IMCOM-Pacific is currently testing two Ford Escape SUVs with hydrogen internal combustion engines, through a partnership with federal and state officials, local businesses and representatives at the Hawaii Center for Advanced Transportation Technologies (HCATT).
"For all practical purposes, it's the same (Ford Escape) you'd drive off the (car) lot," said Col. Howard Killian, deputy director, IMCOM-Pacific Region.
Unlike NEVs, hydrogen vehicles can achieve highway speeds and have a range of about 100-120 miles per tank. The vehicles are refueled on Hickam Air Force Base where a hydrogen fuel station splits water into hydrogen and oxygen.
Although energy is required to produce hydrogen, the ultimate goal is to use sustainable sources like the sun and wind to produce that energy, which would essentially make it a clean process the whole way through, Killian said.
In other words, the sun and wind could be used to produce hydrogen, and the engine could make water when it burned hydrogen. That type of "fusion cell" technology is about 10 years away, Killian said.
In addition to these types of fusion cells, IMCOM Pacific is working with the Hawaiian Electric Company to develop a smart grid to power these new systems during periods of low demand.
Both hydrogen and electric vehicles are still in the experimental phase and are scheduled to replace nontactical, light duty vehicles, such as sedans and light trucks.
For heavy duty, tactical vehicles like busses and trucks, the Army is experimenting with biodiesel fuels grown in Hawaii versus those shipped from the mainland.
Overall, Killian stressed the importance of developing complimentary systems, including a mix of hydrogen, electric and biodiesel, to avoid relying on any one system of power generation.
As with any new idea, the toughest challenge is getting people to see the big picture.
Pfc. Jordan Presley, a driver with the 25th Infantry Division command group, isn't sold on the hydrogen-powered SUV. He said the vehicle struggles to travel uphill compared to a gas-powered car.
"And you can't hear it start. I'm used to the run-nun-nun," said Presley, with a hint of nostalgia in his voice, referring to the sound a V-8 engine makes when it starts.
Back at the East Range, Jefferson parked his shiny NEV with the plastic cover still on the seat and a total of 15.1 miles on the odometer.