Military takes aim at excessive fuel consumption

On Tuesday, the Pentagon detailed $18 million worth of new projects focused primarily on managing battlefield heating and air conditioning systems to reduce energy consumption.

The projects include a $6 million program led by the Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in partnership with the Air Force Research Laboratory to cut by 50 percent the amount of fuel needed for heating and cooling. A $1 million project by the Naval Facilities Engineering Command and the Marine Corps is aimed at creating more energy-efficient shipping containers, which also house deployed personnel. The new containers are to use half as much energy as current models.

Another project is a solar co-generation system the Marine Corps plans to test that will produce both electricity and hot water for forward operating bases. Gilad Almogy, Cogenra's chief executive officer, said his company's system captures the heat normally wasted in standard solar installations that generate only electricity. The waste heat warms water, which can be used for showers or kitchens at forward operating bases, Almogy said. In its contract justification documents, the Marine Corps said the thermal energy produced by one of the company's demonstration systems to heat water held "significant fuel savings potential" that could allow troops to shut down a tactical generator for eight hours a day, conserving four gallons of JP-8 fuel per day.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno said last week the service must cut its energy costs to meet tight budget demands.

As part of that effort, Fort Carson garrison commander Col. Robert McLaughlin told reporters Wednesday the installation will use the wood chips to fuel a pilot biomass plant that will generate 70 kilowatts of energy. Fort Carson aims to produce as much power as it consumes by 2020, he said.

The Colorado installation already generates 3.5 percent of the 170 megawatts of energy it uses annually from a massive solar array. Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment, said Fort Carson will generate even more energy from solar power when it installs panels on the roof of a parking garage. All the new buildings for the combat aviation brigade will be certified green under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards.

Hammack said the Army also wants to cut fuel use by its nontactical vehicle fleet by 20 percent to 40 percent over the next five years, a goal she said the service intends to meet by winnowing the fleet and using hybrid or high fuel-efficiency vehicles.

Cutting fuel consumption of combat vehicles will be a much harder task. Armored tactical vehicles capable of resisting improvised bombs are heavy and use a lot of fuel. Ultimately, the Army hopes advanced materials for armor can be used to reduce their weight and with it fuel consumption, Hammack said.