The Army, which must haul its fuel with it when it takes the field, has hired an Irvine-based fuel systems developer to build a prototype special operations vehicle that would run quietly on a hydrogen-powered fuel cell.
The contract calls for Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies Worldwide Inc. to develop an all-terrain vehicle over the next 10 months. A six-month field test would follow. The size of the contract was not revealed.
The all-wheel drive, open vehicle would carry a driver and one passenger, and have a cargo bed for their gear and surround them with a roll cage for protection, said Andy Abele, Quantum's chief technology officer. It would be powered by a fuel cell that produces electrical power from hydrogen stored in special high-pressure tanks made by Quantum.
The 150-employee company already does fuel cell system development work for General Motors Corp., which owns 19.9% of Quantum, and other vehicle manufacturers.
The military vehicle is expected to run much cooler than internal-combustion engine vehicles, making it harder to target with heat-seeking devices. Additionally, the fuel cell would serve as an on-site generator to power communications and tracking devices in the field.
Abele said the contract could open the door to a huge new market for Quantum if the military adopts hydrogen as a preferred fuel.
Fuel cell vehicles "have the potential to provide more efficient, stealthier vehicles," said Dennis Wend, executive director of the Army's National Automotive Center.
Quantum's stock Wednesday fell 8 cents to $9.11 on Nasdaq.