The Defense Department and the Energy Department are starting two new programs designed to help move DoD beyond petroleum-based fuels, both on its installations and in its vehicles.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the programs, which build on an agreement the two departments signed last year to work together on energy innovation, at the Army-Air Force Energy Forum Tuesday in Arlington, Va.
The first is an effort to determine whether fuel cells might be able to replace the diesel generators scattered across DoD installations, both as a backup power source at more permanent bases and as a primary power source at forward deployed locations. Energy will use eight DoD bases in the continental U.S., from the California desert to New York’s West Point, as a test bed for new fuel cell technology.
“You can generate electricity using, for example, a natural-gas powered cell,” Chu said. “We’re going to be installing and operating 18 of these systems. Sometimes when the power lines go down, instead of an emergency diesel generator, this is an alternative for emergency backup power.”
Chu said the technology Energy will use is the outcome of research the department has subsidized at several companies, and which has reduced the cost of fuel cells by 80 percent since 2002.
A second project will give Chu’s department a key role in developing the technologies which will power future military vehicles. The Advanced Vehicle Power Technology Alliance will drive joint research money into a new generation of engines and transmissions, new lightweight materials, alternative fuels and hybrid propulsion systems. Researchers also plan to develop technologies that can harvest excess body heat generated by a vehicle’s passengers and turn it into electrical energy that can power various systems in the vehicle. Chu said DoD also will take advantage of Energy’s analytical tools and high performance computing simulations.
“Believe it or not, we’re experts on explosives,” he said. “We can simulate an IED. We can simulate how a particular design or a particular armor can be resilient to IEDs, and so we can help come up with a better protective design for a given type of armor and a given type of protective material.”
The announcements come at a time when DoD is thinking hard about how it uses energy, including the release this summer of the Pentagon’s first operational energy strategy.
That plan focuses on energy used by the military in its core warfighting missions, with the primary goal of replacing diesel and jet fuel while becoming more energy efficient. One DoD study estimates that more than 3,000 troops and contractors have been killed driving convoys of that fuel into Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Pentagon would like to replace as much imported liquid fuel as possible with energy that can be generated at the point where it is consumed, such as solar and biofuels.
Deputy Defense Secretary Bill Lynn said the military can be a test bed for new technologies, since it has some of the world’s most urgent energy needs, and is large enough to be an economy all its own. On DoD’s bases, he said, the military can lead the way in finding ways to reduce the amount of energy the nation uses in buildings.
“We believe these technologies can reduce the energy demand in DoD facilities by a dramatic amount: up to 50 percent in existing buildings, and up to 70 percent in new construction,” said Lynn, who announced July 7 he is leaving DoD as soon as a replacement is found. “DoD is the ultimate test bed. Whether it was advancing nuclear power in the 1960s, helping invent the Internet in the 1970s, or helping develop microelectronics in the 1980s and 1990s, the department has a proven track record in seeding our new industries.”
DoD accounts for 80 percent of the federal government’s energy use and about one percent of the nation’s overall use. The department’s energy bill last year was $15 billion, 225 percent more than a decade ago. Lynn said bringing that bill down will require changes in how the Pentagon operates.
“A new generation of military technologies that use and store energy more efficiently will only emerge if we change how we do business, especially in acquisition,” he said. “So in addition to traditional performance parameters such as speed, range and payload, we will now consider system energy performance parameters in the requirements and acquisition process. This will also help us manage the lifecycle costs of our systems, the energy footprint of our deployed forces, and the associated costs, both human and financial, of moving fuel into a theater of war.”