Pentagon rolls out vehicle, renewable power initiatives

Source: Annie Snider, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Defense Department is rolling out a trio of energy initiatives today that Obama administration officials say will cut fuel use on the battlefield, save lives and make domestic bases more secure — all while saving money.

Near Detroit, the U.S. Army is cutting the ribbon on a new laboratory that is slated to become the premier site for engineering, testing and demonstrating the next generation of combat vehicles. The 30,000-square-foot Ground Systems Power and Energy Laboratory in Warren, Mich., houses eight labs where new power, energy and mobility technologies will be tested.

The administration also is announcing plans to produce more renewable energy on military bases and a competition aimed at improving energy storage devices.

The Michigan lab addresses a problem that has grown in recent years. As improvised explosive devices caused mounting casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade, the military added heavy layers of armor to its tanks, Humvees and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles. But all that extra weight brought fuel economy down, with some vehicles getting only a few miles a gallon.

Military leaders have in recent years made the connection between such fuel needs and combat vulnerabilities (Greenwire, June 15). Fuel convoys are favorite targets for insurgents, and commanders have said that hard-won territory has at times been lost when troops have been pulled from the fighting in order to refuel.

At the new facility, engineers will work to improve the fuel efficiency of vehicles without sacrificing soldiers’ safety. A prototype of a modified Humvee designed by the Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Command has proved to boost fuel economy by as much as 70 percent.

Administration officials say the work done at the new lab could ripple through the commercial sector, which is also interested in vehicles that can go farther, faster and more safely while using less fuel. Industry and academia will have shared access to the new facility.

The military will road-test new technologies, including fuel cells, hybrid systems, battery technologies and alternative fuels, with a “Green Warrior Convoy” that will travel to schools, colleges and military facilities around the country.

Other initiatives

Also today, the Army and Air Force are announcing commitments to produce 1 gigawatt of renewable energy each from projects on their bases. Combined with a previous commitment by the Navy, that brings the total goal from the military services to 3 GW of renewable energy, enough to power 750,000 homes.

“When we talk about the priorities of energy security and energy independence, the Department of Defense plays a critical role,” an administration official said on a call with reporters yesterday.

Facing a legal requirement to produce a quarter of its power from renewable sources by 2025, as well as a growing awareness of the fragility of the domestic grid upon which it relies, DOD has already been aggressively building clean power projects on its land.

The military plans to lean heavily on third-party financing to pay for such projects. Not only does the federal government want the private sector to pick up the hefty upfront capital costs, but more importantly, the government can’t tap some of the tax incentives that make projects financially viable for private developers.

For its part, industry has been eyeing the military’s massive land holdings and the Pentagon’s unique authority within the federal government to sign power purchase agreements over periods as long as 30 years.

Also today, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy is announcing a $30 million competition in search of improved energy storage devices. Administration officials are pitching the effort as one that could have critical benefits for the military. On the battlefield, generators that power air conditioners, computers and heaters use a great deal of fuel.