Here’s an idea that might not come to mind so easily—the Army is just as interested as you are in saving gas. If you needed to know, the Abrams M1 main battle tank uses 1.6 gallons per mile, which can seriously tie up Army logistics when you’re looking to pan-fry the Republican Guard. Likewise, researchers are looking to make their war machines a little friendlier to the coffers of the Pentagon, if not the environment—and there’s a hint that some of this technology could trickle down to vehicles of the un-armored, un-gunned kind.
At the aptly-named Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) in Warren, Michigan—which is guaranteed to be a cooler place to work at than yours—the engineers there are working on a system to exhaust heat into electricity to power the vehicle’s onboard computers, thereby recovering 30 percent of energy that would otherwise be wasted out of the muffler. It would also make the tank more durable and render it more thermally efficient. Researchers are currently working on the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, pictured above, which gets a lofty 1 gallon per mile even.
The lost energy could also be recovered to recharge batteries—just like those on a hybrid tank, which could also be a possibility. Alternative fuel systems are just what GM is working on, in the form of a hydrogen fuel cell drivetrain. Could a lithium-ion battery, like those in the Chevrolet Volt, be adapted into anything with a 22-mm M242 Bushmaster chain-fed autocannon? The goals for such a project are similar to what automakers want in their consumer products: less complexity, more durability, increased efficiency, and lower production costs.
“The military operates in very extreme environments, doing very difficult missions,” Al Schumacher, assistant associate director at TARDEC. “If we can makes these vehicles function in that environment, we should be able to implement them in commercial applications that are cheaper and very reliable.”
As far as tangibles go, the energy recapturing technology already has precedence, as TARDEC researchers have developed. But a more durable hybrid or fuel cell vehicle would benefit consumers in the most obvious of manners, and maybe even cut down on military spending. And in this election year, we all know that’s something both parties can get behind.