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U.S. Army tests renewable energy systems for soldiers in the field

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May 16, 2012

Marnie de Jong, an electrical engineer with the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engine...

Marnie de Jong, an electrical engineer with the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, with RENEWS

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In a bid to mitigate the risks associated with fuel transportation and to make soldiers’ work less technically complex, U.S. military scientists have started to test microgrids that would provide clean energy to soldiers in the field. Since 2009, scientists from the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) have been developing two systems – RENEWS and REDUCE – which are being tested at the Fort Irwin National Training Center in California, and by U.S. Africa Command.

RENEWS mixes solar, wind power and batteries into a “solution set” that allows soldiers the flexibility to tap the energy source that is available at a given location. It was designed to power small communications systems in remote locations, to which transporting fuel could be a dangerous task. In fact, safety is a major motivation behind the project, since two percent of fuel truck convoys are attacked.

The system can power two or three laptops continuously and store enough energy for five hours to cover periods of no generation. The components may sound a bit heavy for civilian standards, but are probably quite light for the military, weighing in at 100 pounds (45.3 kg). They are stored in two cases weighing about 70 pounds (31.7 kg) each.

The RENEWS system
The RENEWS system

The REDUCE system is in its early stages, and is designed to be towed on a Humvee trailer. It is a power management and distribution system that combines clean energy with fossil fuel. An automated system, it unburdens soldiers from having to manage power by tackling compatibility issues that are all too common in the army.

"It's really frustrating for soldiers in the field when they just want to use this cable with this battery, and it doesn't work. One of the major technical challenges is having standardization for interfaces and smarts that make all the pieces work seamlessly so the soldier doesn't have to configure anything,” said Marnie de Jong, an electrical engineer with the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command.

Besides offering safety and practicality, the innovation also makes environmental and economic sense. The U.S. Army is a massive consumer of energy, guzzling 90 percent of all the energy consumed by the federal government. Therefore, embracing renewable energy can make its operations more sustainable.

The Army is not the only group embracing clean tech, though. Recently the U.S. Navy ran tests on a mix of petroleum and algae-based marine diesel, that powered a ship sailing between Everett, Washington and San Diego.

Source: U.S. Army/UPI

About the Author
Antonio Pasolini Brazilian-Italian Antonio Pasolini graduated in journalism in Brazil before heading out to London for an MA in film and television studies. He fell in love with the city and spent 13 years there as a film reviewer before settling back in Brazil. Antonio's passion for green issues - and the outdoors - eventually got the best of him and since 2007 he's been writing about alternative energy, sustainability and new technology.   All articles by Antonio Pasolini
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8 Comments

The Australian army have has solar cells like that for years. Don't you just love it when you see a Superpower playing catch up. :)

Wesley Bruce
17th May, 2012 @ 01:46 am PDT

Solar and wind generators by their nature can not be fortified.

Slowburn
17th May, 2012 @ 06:26 pm PDT

Slow burn, how fortified is diesel fuel? That's what they currently use to generate power to recharge devices in the field. Meanwhile there have been 3000 US military deaths in attacks on fuel convoys and the cost to operate and secure those convoys mean each gallon of diesel delivered to a frontline unit in Iraq and Afghanistan has cost on average $300 US dollars.

What's better delivering highly flammable fuel in convoys at great cost in lives and expense or delivering a batch of solar panels which can go on producing power without further deliveries for months to years?

Robert Smithers
17th May, 2012 @ 10:12 pm PDT

re; Robert Smithers

A diesel generator and fuel tank, a steam plant, or a collection of nuclear batteries can be put into a deep hole and covered with a sandbagged roof that will keep out several direct hits by120mm mortars or 155mm howitzers. The solar collectors and windmill can be destroyed with AK-47 fire.

When fighting an insurgency you have to get the insurgents out in the open unless you are willing to commit genocide. Automated trucks even if they can only follow a leader would greatly reduce the cost in human life of the supply convoys. War is expensive and I think the world is better off that way than it would be if war was cheap.

Slowburn
18th May, 2012 @ 09:46 am PDT

Slowburn,

you seem to be way off on the importance of renewable energy. Who cares if it cant be fortified. fuel canisters, radios, and batteries are also not fortified yet are used on the front lines everyday. The goal here is to reduce our dependancy on outside resources, so fuel convoys are reduced and sustainability is increased. Radios, M68 sights, m23 ballistic computers, laptops, GPS systems can all operate longer without waiting on a replacement battery or worse yet find yourself sitting in a guard tower at night with a thermal sight with a dead battery.

Try getting "the insurgents out in the open" as you patrol around on limited fuel and dying batteries for your comms and equipment.

Try convincing the light infantryman to dig a deep hole for his diesel generator or fuel tank when the mission calls for moving from outpost to outpost in just hours or days.

War is expensive not because of the expensive materials we use, but the irreplacable cost of lives lost.

Erick León
30th May, 2012 @ 12:11 am PDT

re; Erick Leon

With all the electricity dependent systems that American soldiers use depending on the tiny trickle of current from the large obvious target wouldn't make me happy.

Slowburn
3rd June, 2012 @ 11:38 pm PDT

further re; Erick Leon

What you can not fortify you make redundant and keep your spares in fortify positions.

Every military vehicle should have battery chargers built in to avoid half that situation, but the point is that the fuel convoys are desirable enough targets that even heavily escorted the bad guys are still likely to try something.

Light infantry moving the way you suggest don't want to carry a windmill and solar array around either especially when for the same weight they can carry adequate batteries or generators that will charge their batteries much faster in almost any conditions.

I thought I was clear that I was not minimizing the importance of both soldier and civilian lives. But money is important.

Slowburn
4th June, 2012 @ 12:38 am PDT

That Carbon Fiber Mast for the turbine is slick. It telescopes down to a super small and lightweight tube that weighs 17 pounds which is pretty cool. I'm seeing some significant improvements in this system vs their 1st version of RENEWS

Ryan Brown
14th June, 2012 @ 08:21 pm PDT
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