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Conservation, Innovation Fuel Defense Energy Efforts

February 2007
By Robert K. Ackerman
E-mail About the Author

The U.S. Army Rapid Equipping Force is testing Transportable Hybrid Electric Power System units, or THEPS, for possible deployment to Iraq. These units generate power from renewable sources such as wind and solar power.
The department thinks globally, acts globally.

The U.S. Defense Department has an energy conservation and development program that is as far and wide as the U.S. military’s reach around the world. The department is revamping methodologies and exploring new technologies both to reduce its energy consumption and to ensure a reliable supply in an uncertain global energy environment.

The Defense Department may not be thought of as a font of energy innovation and conservation. However, both need and opportunity have impelled the department to explore new solutions to both challenges. As a result, it has developed a diverse menu of energy sources and received federal energy management awards for efficiency.

Some of its energy efforts are technology driven. They range from exploring alternative fuels to developing novel power generation systems and fuel cells that run off easily available fuel. But other efforts seek to employ renewable energy sources that can supplant or replace conventional crude-oil-driven power. And, some technology research aims to change the nature of the power-consuming item—and accordingly its energy use.

The department is looking at new types of public-private partnerships for base and facility energy requirements. This includes energy performance savings contracts, or EPSCs, in which a private contractor would provide the capital to reduce energy consumption at a military installation and reap some out-year savings.

The department also is examining how to realize similar energy savings on platforms. As of last summer, energy efficiency is being considered as a key performance parameter for some acquisition programs, particularly for new platforms. This idea had been bounced around the Defense Department for some time, but the recent jump in energy costs worldwide added both incentive and urgency to that approach.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense recently stood up an Energy Security Task Force, and its recommendations are being implemented into the budget. The department is keeping the group together as a focus effort for energy concerns across the department. And, a high-level Defense Science Board Task Force is considering various options to improve energy efficiency.

These many efforts represent the sharing of technologies and ideas throughout the Defense Department. Alan Shaffer, director, plans and programs, Office of the Director, Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E), points out that the Defense Department is the nation’s single largest consumer of energy. The department consumes about 340,000 barrels of oil per day, which accounts for 1.2 percent of the nation’s energy consumption of 21 million barrels per day. The world currently consumes about 85 million barrels of oil per day.

Global supply and demand constitutes one of the department’s biggest challenges, Shaffer continues. Worldwide refining capacity is running at about 97 percent, which makes for a fragile economic energy infrastructure. Demand is growing, so flexibility in the global energy market is tightening. The energy challenges facing the United States as a nation are the same as those confronting the Defense Department as a whole.

“We have a very fragile supply, demand and distribution system,” he allows.

Shaffer emphasizes that the Defense Department is committed to reducing its demand for energy. Its commitment encompasses individuals, platforms and facilities. Complementing it is a robust research and development effort to explore new energy options.

Roughly 58 percent of the Defense Department’s energy consumption involves jet fuel, Shaffer states. Aircraft are primary users, but many other systems also require this fuel. For example, U.S. Army tanks employ jet-fuel-driven turbine engines, and generators also use it. Many large ships use marine diesel fuel, which adds up to 13 percent of the department’s energy demand. Another 11 percent is dedicated to electricity generation. By function, about 75 percent of the Defense Department’s energy use is devoted to moving forces around the battlefield. So, the department is focusing its major conservation efforts on these large-demand drivers.

One such effort involves reducing that consumption of jet fuel, and the thrust is to increase the energy efficiency of aircraft and other jet fuel users. Shaffer relates that for about 15 years the department ran the Integrated High-Performance Turbine Engine Technology program for aircraft engines. Known as IHPTET, this effort was designed to increase jet engine performance.

A couple of years ago IHPTET was replaced by the Versatile Affordable Advanced Turbine Engine, or VAATE, program. A component of VAATE—the Highly Efficient Embedded Turbine Engine program, or HEETE—is a tri-service program that aims to develop internal components that would increase turbine operating temperatures and core pressure ratios. Demonstrations of component technologies are scheduled for 2008 with the aim of a complete engine demonstration by 2014. This innovative engine could generate energy efficiencies of as much as 25 percent, Shaffer offers.

The department also is looking to find new types of fuel for jet engines. The Air Force recently flight tested a B-52 using a 50-50 mix of conventional jet fuel and synthetic fuel. Synthetic fuel can be developed from coal, which the United States has in great abundance. In addition to reducing U.S. dependence on foreign crude oil, the use of coal-derived synthetic fuels also would provide an ensured fuel supply.

Shaffer relates that the U.S. Navy is working to reduce the energy consumption of its large ships. Over the past 10 years, simply retrofitting existing ships with stern flaps and bulbous bows changed the ships’ lift to drag and reduced their energy consumption by 5 percent. Other measures aim at developing more efficient propulsion for future vessels.

Another way to reduce military fuel consumption is to make mobile platforms lighter. Weight equals greater energy consumption, Shaffer points out, so reduced weight leads to lower energy use. Several Defense Department organizations are working to develop lightweight materials that would replace heavier counterparts and reduce fuel use.

One program has the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) exploring several different processes for making titanium affordable. The fourth-most abundant metal in the world, titanium currently costs more than $30 per pound. But it is about 40 percent lighter than steel and has better strength and flexibility. If its cost can be brought down to where it is competitive with steel, then its wider use can improve energy efficiency across a range of manufactured items. DARPA’s titanium research effort has achieved promising results, Shaffer notes, and it may result in titanium prices in the region of $10 per pound. While engineering challenges remain, that price could be realized within a couple of years.

Through the Tank Automotive Research and Development Center (TARDEC) in Warren, Michigan, the Army is experimenting with new energy-efficient technologies that could be embedded into different vehicles. These include lightweight transmissions and composite moldings as well as research into hybrid-electric vehicles. One effort aims at developing a hard compartmented shell for a wheeled vehicle that would protect its soldiers within. This shell would be much lighter in weight than existing protective materials, and so the vehicle would use less fuel.

The Versatile Affordable Advanced Turbine Engine, or VAATE (t), program aims to improve the fuel efficiency of jet engines. Its component, the Highly Efficient Embedded Turbine Engine, or HEETE (b), program focuses on developing internal turbine components that would increase performance and decrease fuel consumption.
Shaffer emphasizes that no weight- or energy-saving measure under consideration for any platform would provide less safety and protection than currently available. Some of these technologies could be assembled into prototype vehicles in 2008 or 2009. But TARDEC’s component approach also will permit engineers to spin off separate components in various wheeled vehicles.

“We’re looking for energy efficiency, but [it must be] energy efficiency in the context of performance or protecting our troops,” he declares.

The Defense Department also is focusing on installations for energy conservation. Shaffer reports that since 1985 the Defense Department has decreased energy consumption per building square foot by 30 percent. But the department also is using renewable energy sources at bases where possible.

Shaffer notes that 9 percent of the energy used at Defense Department installations in 2005 came from renewable sources. Calling it the highest rate in the federal government, he adds that the department has several related efforts both mature and embryonic.

The CosoValley geothermal electric plant at China Lake, California, is run by a commercial firm. This company supplies the naval air station there with all of its electrical needs from that plant, and it sells excess capacity throughout California. Both the Navy and the U.S. Air Force have created their own thermal electric plants in the West, where some areas offer geothermal power potential similar to that of Iceland, in which more than one-sixth of the country’s electricity comes from geothermal sources.

The department also has several wind generator farms. Small wind generating plants produce electricity for several bases in wind-swept areas in the West. And, the department has created large banks of photovoltaic solar collectors at some bases that are relatively cloud-free. One photovoltaic farm at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, generates 122 megawatts of electricity. This renewable source decreases the electricity demand for the rest of the base, Shaffer notes.

Conservation also has cut energy usage at bases around the country. For example, the Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton, California, installed high-efficiency lights, encouraged natural light use in hangar bays and upgraded air conditioning units basewide. Those three simple measures saved the energy equivalent of power for 1,300 homes per year, Shaffer reports.

These applications are not limited to large bases. A U.S. Marine Corps commander in Iraq recently requested portable generators to reduce the number of convoys that were needed to support outposts. The Army’s Rapid Equipping Force (SIGNAL Magazine, June 2006) responded to that request by fast-tracking five Transportable Hybrid Electric Power System units, known as THEPS. These systems provide about 250 kilowatts of continuous power from renewable sources such as wind, the sun, fuel cells and large batteries.

These THEPS units are undergoing testing in the United States for possible deployment to Iraq next month. Lessening the need for convoys there both cuts fuel usage and reduces the vulnerability of U.S. ground forces that often are attacked in convoy, Shaffer points out.

The deployment of THEPS technology relates to a third focus, which is to improve the energy efficiency of forces deployed overseas. This effort encompasses activities from powering deployed bases to providing energy to individual warfighters.

Shaffer warrants that the DDR&E is dedicated to moving near-term technologies into the hands of warfighters in the field. Initiatives range from advanced fuels to alternative types of energy and personal electronics solutions.

One technology approach converts waste into oil. The Rapid Equipping Force is looking at deployable energy plants that would take the waste generated by a force on the move and use it to power that force. Shaffer offers that some vendors already have demonstrated the ability to convert a ton of waste into several barrels of oil per day.

“You don’t need to go into a place and create mountains of trash when you can change that trash into oil,” he says. While an army may travel on its stomach, the future force also would travel on its trash.

Support to the individual warfighter buttresses many department energy initiatives. Fuel cells and batteries are high on the list. With the downsizing of electronics and other equipment—along with the proliferation of sensors—the department realized a few years ago that the demand for electricity on the battlefield was growing significantly. Describing this demand as “burgeoning,” Shaffer relates that the department accelerated ongoing programs to support warfighters in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it is pursuing other programs aggressively.

“The modern military runs on electricity,” he declares.

A five-year departmentwide program, the Energy Power Technology Initiative, includes several efforts to increase power density in both fuel cells and batteries. For example, one fuel cell program aims to develop devices that would provide a couple of hundred watts each to individual soldiers.

But a key focal point is to develop fuel cells that operate on standard battlefield fuel. By tapping currently used fuels, these cells would not require establishing an entirely new logistics chain across the battlespace. The Army Research Laboratory in Adelphi, Maryland, is working on reformer technology—which turns hydrocarbon or alcohol fuels into hydrogen—that would employ standard JP-5 or JP-8 aviation fuel to power fuel cells.

The laboratory also is pursuing extensive basic research into battery technologies. This work focuses on chemistry and physics, along with packaging techniques for existing systems such as lithium-ion batteries.

These efforts aim to double energy density within the next five years or so. That accomplishment substantially would lighten the load carried by soldiers to power their electronic gear.

Many Defense Department energy projects involve close collaboration with private industry—especially small business. After the Energy Security Task Force issued several recommendations, the department doubled the number of small business innovative research (SBIR) topic areas in energy and power. Several good ideas came in from small businesses, Shaffer relates.

The increase in energy prices has resulted in an explosion in the number of innovative startup companies working on energy, he adds. The department is reaching out to them, and it already has awarded a number of contracts to these small businesses. These contracts cover topics ranging from compact capacitors to high-temperature control circuitry and high-efficiency fuel cell reformers.

Some defense-funded companies are pursuing different and innovative research into fuel cells. Shaffer says that “remarkable, robust fuel cells” are emerging from a variety of small companies. He likens the current environment for energy startup companies to that of the information technology arena a couple of decades ago, albeit on a smaller scale. The department issues two or three SBIR calls per year, and these solicitations will continue for the foreseeable future.

“There are a number of bright chemists out there who don’t work for the Defense Department but rather work for small companies,” Shaffer asserts. “We want to use that innovation for America.”

Shaffer relates that the Defense Department has received federal energy management awards for many of its energy programs. In 2005, the department won four of the five presidential awards given to federal organizations for their leadership in energy efficiency. “Energy, [along with] energy efficiency and conservation, is something that is becoming part of our culture,” he says.

Work continues on improving energy efficiency. But, even with additional diverse sources such as renewable energy, basic research is tempered by basic reality.

“For the weapon systems we’re buying now, we’re wedded to petrochemicals for as far out as we can see,” Shaffer states. “The Defense Department will use oil. So we’ve got to figure out ways to be a little more efficient and a little more self-sufficient.”


Web Resources
DDR&E Energy and Power Technologies Initiative:
DDR&E Energy Security:
Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Installations and Environment:
Army Energy Program:
Navy Energy Program:
Air Force Facility Energy management: