Nevermind fatigues, The White House and the U.S. Army are getting greener still, announcing on Wednesday the opening of a 30,000 square foot Army laboratory in Warren, MI, dedicated to cutting edge, alternative energy technology for powering new tanks and other military vehicles.
The new lab, called the Ground Systems Power and Energy Lab (GSPEL) is actually eight labs in one facility. It will partner with academic and industry researchers to develop next-generation fuel cells, energy storage systems, hybrid systems, and yes, alternative fuels such as algae biofuel. The lab is also equipped for air filtration and thermal management research.
The centerpiece project for GSPEL will be the development of a “Green Warrior Convoy” modeled after the U.S. Navy’s Great Green Fleet, a project to sail an entire fleet of ships powered by alternative fuels by 2016.
Like the Green Fleet, the Green Convoy will serve as a demonstration showcase for clean energy and energy efficiency technologies. In typical Armed Services fashion, the Army seems to be competing with the Navy over bragging rights for first place: the Green Convoy is set to roll in 2013, and while the Green Fleet was announced last year it won’t officially launch until 2014 (though a smaller Green Strike Group will sail this summer).
The Army also seems to be one-upping the Navy on the public relations front, as the Green Convoy initiative is specifically designed for traveling to communities around the country, pitching new energy technology to the public.
GSPEL broke ground in 2009 at the Army’s longstanding vehicle research center in Warren, Michigan, the Tank Automotive Research, Development, and Engineering Command (TARDEC).
Yesterday’s opening coincided with a front page story in Stand To!, the Army’s online leadership newsletter, which described the importance of the new facility for future Army readiness and its role in transferring innovative technologies to the civilian sector:
“The GSPEL will serve as the cornerstone of the Army’s next generation of power, energy and mobility initiatives. GSPEL will serve as a single data point for TARDEC’s overall energy strategy with the larger Energy Department and Department of Army strategy… Work done in the GSPEL labs will lead to innovations in energy efficient technologies that will benefit not only our Soldiers but also our nation, developing advanced technologies for tactical and non tactical ground vehicles that support our military forces at home and abroad will help establish operational energy security for America.”
To underscore the implications of President Obama’s energy policy for military readiness even further, yesterday’s GSPEL opening coincided with the launch of a new $43 million “open call” research competition from ARPA-E, the Advance Research Projects Agency under the Department of Energy. The new round of funding will focus on advanced energy storage solutions for both military and civilian use.
Energy storage is a particularly acute issue for the Army. Modern soldiers carry more portable electronic equipment into the field, which in turn requires them to pack along more batteries, too. Lightening the load has become a priority for military researchers.
As for the other branches of the Armed Services, yesterday the White House also announced that the Department of Defense has set a new goal of building three gigawatts of renewable energy by 2025, making it “one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history.”
The new projects will be constructed on Army, Navy and Air Force lands, expanding the Net Zero initiative already undertaken by the Army.
The Net Zero goal for Army facilities is to consume only as much energy as they can produce on their premises. A similar concept guides water consumption and waste disposal, too.
The Net Zero initiative provides a good window into contemporary energy policy as it relates to the military. In contrast to the “drill baby, drill” mentality, Net Zero perceives military readiness and domestic quality of life as two sides of the same coin:
“Addressing energy security and sustainability is operationally necessary, financially prudent, and essential to mission accomplishment…We are creating a culture that recognizes the value of sustainability measured not just in terms of financial benefits, but benefits to maintaining mission capability, quality of life, relationships with local communities, and the preservation of options for the Army’s future.”
The Net Zero initiative will soon be seen at work right at TARDEC, which earlier this year announced that it would become the first Army installation to be powered with a solar and wind microgrid. The new microgrid won’t generate enough power for the whole facility - just for two labs and a parking lot - but it will include fuel cells, multiple fuel capabilities, electric vehicle chargers and a mobile solar generating unit to demonstrate the superior flexibility of clean energy technology.