In its mission to reduce the staggering amount of fuel used to support military initiatives around the world, the U.S. Marines yesterday announced a contract with Lockheed Martin to develop battlefield-ready fuel cell generators.

The project will result in the development of a solid oxide fuel cell generator, integrated with solar panels, and capable of being 30%-50% more efficient than current diesel generators.

“Lockheed Martin shares the U.S. Department of Defense’s top goals of increasing the safety of our troops and reducing operational costs,” said Dan Heller, vice president of new ventures for Lockheed Martin Mission Systems & Sensors. “Alternative energy solutions, such as the fuel cell we are developing for the Office of Naval Research, can help mitigate these challenges, advancing the strength and flexibility of our military operating in some of the world’s toughest conditions.”

In 2009 alone, the military consumed some 375,000 barrels of oil per day, more than three-quarters of all other countries on the planet. To put that in perspective, Nigeria—with a population of more than 140 million—consumes about the same amount. There are currently over 100,000 military generators in place around the world, so shifting to a more efficient means of electricity generation would certainly have an impact; especially on lives saved. Eighty percent of the supply convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan are fuel trucks—with over 3,000 American soldiers and contractors killed in attacks associated with fuel delivery between 2003 and 2007.

In the spring of 2011, Lockheed Martin successfully completed a major test using the military’s standard diesel fuel (JP-8) to run a fuel cell generator for over 1,000 hours.

“This milestone brings us closer to fielding military fuel-cell generators, which could provide the military a safer, less expensive alternative to conventional power generators,” said Steve Sinsabaugh, Lockheed Martin fuel-cell manager.

The $3M project to create a battlefield-ready fuel cell generator is expected to take 32 months.