Army S&T powers up expert team to find energy solutions

February 07, 2013

The Army's power and energy technology for the battlefield of the future moves Warfighters away from a logistics train that has traditionally led to casualties.

A team of senior scientists and engineers, who are part of Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) organizations, are behind the plans for better energy solutions.

The RDECOM Power and Energy Technology Focus Team's primary role is long-term science and technology strategy to support future Army operational needs. The team also advises executive leadership on current and near-term power and energy products.

"The Department of Defense is one of the single largest energy consumers," said Edward Shaffer, who is the chief of the Power and Energy Division at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL). "Energy is vital to the technology enabled capabilities that provide our military superiority, but we have an obligation to use energy wisely in the field, just as we do on installations."

Shaffer, along with John Carroll, action officer for the Power and Energy Technology Focus Team (TFT), leads the panel of Power and Energy Technology Focus Team experts.

Energy resupply on the battlefield is one of three great challenges the panel addresses; along with conserving available energy via more efficient conversion, lightening the load that Soldiers carry, and reducing the overall energy footprint, said Shaffer.

"We exchange information to ensure situational awareness of emerging technologies, trends, and Army needs," Shaffer said. "TFT members engage in meetings and workshops to ensure a consistent Army viewpoint of power and energy. Our goal is to ensure that research efforts are complementary and collaborative wherever possible, and that external opportunities are leveraged and duplicative efforts are avoided."

The focus group analyzes the S&T portfolio to identify gaps and opportunities; although all research program and technology projects are executed within ARL and the RDECs, the team helps identify specific goals and metrics reflecting how the technology can be best advanced.

It also provides the benefit of speaking with "one voice" for RDECOM within a particular technology area. This is of tremendous advantage to the Army in addressing external inquiries such as from the Government Accountability Office or the U.S. Congress, Carroll said.

"We also help the Army become smart buyers by having a forum where the TFT is an honest broker for vetting emerging technologies and products. We can ask the tough questions for organizations or Army leadership at the onset, and develop and share white papers reflecting a consensus view of how a particular approach stacks up against the state of the art, Shaffer said.

By looking at challenges from many angles, the team has yielded some interesting Army science and technology possibilities.

ARL is looking at a Smart Battlefield Energy on-Demand (SmartBED) concept that will enable Soldiers to exploit both energy and data for better efficiency on the battlefield. The approach is different from commercial Microgrid and SmartGrid efforts in that it embraces a bottoms up, reconfigurable architecture versus a top down, fixed grid infrastructure.

SmartBED hubs will get a boost from computer technology to efficiently monitor and regulate energy. "Smart energy is exciting work that has very big potential," said Bruce Geil, who is the chief of the Power Conditioning Branch at ARL.

Soldiers who power and recharge their equipment within SmartBED energy nodes may do so wirelessly so they always come out "energy-ready," said Geil. ARL's goal is to improve the operational energy for Army outposts and Soldier patrols so that troops maintain their energy levels between outposts and while they are on dismounted patrols.

The Army is also one of the first and leading organizations to develop tactical microgrid technologies for the battlefield, said Christopher Wildmann, an electrical engineer with the Power Division of the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) at Fort Belovir, Va.

Warfighters have a demand for small, lightweight technology that installation microgrids do not. Ruggedizing and environmental considerations for the microgrids are also a concern, Wildmann said. The team at CERDEC has been able to demonstrate a tactical microgrid system that can network multiple generators, demonstrating a 37 percent reduction in fuel consumption.

Among other projects across RDECOM, Natick Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass. is working with a company founded by technology developers at the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to design systems that can wirelessly transfer power between a Soldier's helmet and vest.

"Stand-alone solutions are not enough," Shaffer said. "SmartBED, microgrids and more power with less weight is a clear path for the future."

The future of Army S&T looks promising as scientists and engineers take a holistic approach to design power and energy systems.

The core TFT team consists of representatives from the RDECOM staff, ARL's , Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC), Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC), Armaments Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC), Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC), and the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC).


Last Update / Reviewed: February 7, 2013