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 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.