U.S. Military Finds Greener Ways to Operate

WASHINGTON, DC, November 11, 2008 (ENS) - The Army has established a new Energy and Partnership Office to conserve energy, reduce the Army’s dependence on the civilian power grid.

One goal is to provide energy security to Army installations so that they can provide power to the most critical operations, even if the civilian power grid is completely down.

"If we were attacked, or there was a terrible act of nature - and our soldiers were called out into the community to either defend or protect - they need their installation operating," said Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Energy and Partnerships Paul Bollinger, who heads the new office. "You also have critical infrastructure there, hospitals, communications, you may have munitions, and you may need electricity to pump fuel."

Bollinger is overseeing energy security assessments at all Army installations. "We're at the starting line right now for most installations," Bollinger said. "However, we have six installations with coal-fired power plants, so they may be energy secure already."

The Army has several ongoing energy projects, including large-scale energy management programs at Fort Hood, Texas; the solar projects at Fort Sam Houston, Texas; and the Army's largest solar array at Fort Carson, Colorado, which provides 2.3 percent of the energy used at the installation. The project is part of Fort Carson's plan to use 100 percent renewable energy by the year 2027.

Secretary of the Army Pete Geren has announced new pilot energy projects - the development of a 500 megawatt solar thermal plant at Fort Irwin, California; a 30 megawatt geothermal plant at Hawthorne Army Depot, Nevada; and biomass-to-fuel demonstrations at six Army posts.

The Army is also purchasing 4,000 neighborhood electric vehicles that will be sent to 44 installations.

The secretary also said he wants the Army to look at wind energy and nuclear power to make garrisons more energy secure.

The Army is also working on replacing the noisy and inefficient diesel generators that power most military base camp operations with quieter, energy efficient systems. Traditional power production will be integrated with quiet, environmentally-sound hydrogen fuel cell technology

In October, the U.S. Army's Engineer Research and Development Center awarded Proton Energy Systems a $2.62 million contract to develop a regenerative fuel cell system for what is being termed "Silent Camp" Operation.

Based on the most advanced hydrogen technology, this fuel efficient, hybrid power system has the potential to provide the military with tactical and fuel efficiency benefits.

Rob Friedland, president and chief executive of Proton Energy Systems said, "Our mission has always been to apply these hydrogen fuel cell systems in creative, progressive ways that fulfill practical and environmentally sustainable needs. This energy storage system may enable our military to operate at higher fuel efficiencies, ultimately saving lives and money."

Proton Energy Systems' regenerative fuel cell technology may enable the military to operate its generators at higher efficiency points, and provide critical energy storage to capture the excess capacity. On the tactical side, the system could reduce logistics and the potential loss of life associated with high risk fuel transport operations. It could also provide backup power for extended operations if generators fail.

On another research front, the Army is developing mechanisms that can degrade explosive contaminants using biological means such as microbes.

These low-cost, passive remediation techniques are being developed at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center's Environmental Laboratory in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

An interdisciplinary team including a theoretical chemist, biogeochemist, microbial ecologist, microbial geneticist, plant physiologists, an environmental chemist, and environmental engineers collaborate to identify and characterize microbes that can degrade explosives. These processes are then incorporated into remediation systems that are biologically based.

This lab has developed and field-tested treatment wetlands at Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant in Tennessee that produced trinitrotoluene, TNT, for use in World War II. The plant has been closed and much of the land sold but TNT contaminants remain.

A microbial technique developed at the ERDC Environmental Lab has effectively remediated explosives in red water effluents at Volunteer. Red water is a hazardous waste generated during production of TNT.

This technique now has been used to engineer treatment wetlands at the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant in Burlington, Iowa.

On the Navy side, when the destroyer USS Halsey returned to homeport San Diego on November 3 after six months at sea, its engineers had a record of conserving between 600-900 gallons of fuel daily.

Equipped with three diesel fuel-marine Gas Turbine Generators, GTGs, capable of producing 3,000 kilowatts of electricity each, the Halsey originally followed standard procedure of keeping two GTGs on-line at all times in order to provide power to shipboard systems.

By assessing periods of reduced power requirements during their deployment, Halsey's engineers initially tested a pilot program running only one GTG at night.

Gas Turbine Systems Technician Ganeshwar Rao, the leading fuels petty officer aboard Halsey, said analysis of the ship's power consumption during the late evening hours showed that two on-line generators were producing nearly three times the average electrical demand.

"This is due to several factors including cooler nighttime temperatures that reduce air conditioner load, less starting and stopping of equipment due to maintenance, and lights turned off in crew berthing areas and unoccupied spaces," said Rao. "As a result, even one generator's output capacity exceeds the average nighttime electrical load by 30 percent or more."

Lt. Rich Robbins, Halsey's chief engineer, said the engineering team also took a total-ship approach to weigh potential operational impacts of single generator operations before going forward with the program.

"We didn't want to compromise our ability to fight the ship or defend against an emergent threat," said Robbins. "We evaluated the costs versus the benefits of single generator operations. We determined we could achieve significant cost savings without introducing unacceptable risk."

Cmdr. Robert Beauchamp, who assumed command of Halsey during the deployment and after the pilot program began, said he is impressed with the fuel-saving measures. "The results have been remarkable, saving over 21,000 barrels of fuel this quarter alone," he said.

"Everyone in America is feeling the effects of higher energy costs," said Beauchamp. "We have been entrusted with these magnificent ships, it is our responsibility to act as true stewards of the public's trust and efficiently manage the resources."

{Photo: Colorado Governor Bill Ritter Jr. and Major General Mark Graham, commanding general, Division West, First Army and Fort Carson, prepare to cut the ribbon on the Fort Carson solar array. January 14, 2008. (Photo courtesy U.S. Army)}

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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