Defense Media Network

Energy Investments

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) invests in advanced energy technologies to meet unique naval requirements.

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Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Nevin P. Carr, Jr., recently appeared before the Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee to report on science and technology (S&T) efforts within the Department of the Navy and discuss how the president’s FY 2012 budget supports the Navy and Marine Corps.

Carr said the president’s FY 2012 budget requests $2 billion for naval S&T. “The Naval S&T objective is to support a Navy and Marine Corps capable of prevailing in any threat environment,” Carr said.

An area of emphasis for naval S&T is power and energy.

ONR continues to invest in advanced technologies to boost platform power for improved warfighter capability and to increase energy efficiency to enhance platform endurance and reduce warfighter dependence on fossil fuels. Our S&T focus is on technologies and system architectures that increase both power density and energy efficiency. These efforts directly support the Navy’s energy strategy and SECNAV’s [Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus] energy goals of sailing a Green Fleet in 2016 and increasing Department of the Navy (DoN) energy consumption from alternative sources,” Carr said.

He said the Defense Department’s energy security requirements are driven by a variety of factors: 1) U.S. oil sources may not be stable; 2) price volatility impacts; 3) modern military systems’ use of energy is increasing; and 4) the logistics of moving fuel can limit combat operations and put warfighter lives at risk.

“Anyone watching recent news reports has a heightened awareness of each of these factors,” Carr said. “In addition, there exist ongoing concerns about international economic manipulation, unexpected energy requirements associated with humanitarian relief, energy requirements associated with future systems, grid vulnerability, and climate instability. These are not new issues and have been studied by the Navy and Defense Department in a systematic fashion throughout the past decade.

“ONR’s role in energy technologies is to support unique naval research, leverage government and commercial R&D investments, support workforce development in energy technology areas to meet unique naval requirements, support test bed evaluations, and be an early adopter of technologies for shore facilities and platforms. These unique naval areas include fuel, power generation, energy storage, energy distribution and control, and power loads for ships, aircraft, unmanned vehicles, and expeditionary systems,” Carr said.

New Energy Sources
Carr cited an example of practical implementation of the Navy’s efforts when, just over a year ago, Mabus and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Department of the Navy and Department of Agriculture with respect to development of advanced biofuels and other renewable energy systems.

Solar panels soak up rays and convert them to electricity while Marines with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, dig a hole at Combat Center Range 220. The Marines, based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., were utilizing the panels to power radios, laptop computers, lighting, ventilation, and other systems. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. M.C. Nerl

“These include wind, solar, hydrokinetic, ocean thermal, and geothermal for electricity generation, and land for energy crops that can be refined into biofuels to meet both military and commercial transportation needs. In support of the MoU, ONR established a joint research program with the Agricultural Research Service to look at biomass sustainability, with initial work focused in Hawaii,” Carr said. “Our objective is to accelerate the adoption of biofuels and blended logistic fuels by supporting Navy certification processes, and understanding and mitigating the impact of emerging fuels on naval power systems and operations. To achieve these goals, we have invested in research about engine performance, materials compatibility, fuel stability, and biofuels and renewable energy.”

Electric Ship
“In partnership with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Electric Ship Research and Development Consortium [which includes] Florida State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mississippi State University, Purdue University, University of South Carolina, University of Texas at Austin, the U.S. Naval Academy, and others, we are moving toward the Navy’s All Electric Ship,” said Carr. “These programs include development of ONR systems such as EM [electromagnetic] railgun and free electron lasers, partnership with DARPA in silicon carbide wide band-gap power electronics research, and consortium efforts to develop advanced power concepts and new test and evaluation tools with emphasis on naval applications.”

Carr said ONR “is exploring affordable long-endurance fuel cell power, with low noise and heat signature, to meet extended-range mission requirements for unmanned air vehicles. We are also exploring advanced platform designs, launch and recovery, and autonomous operation of unmanned sea (surface) vehicles, as well as air independent power systems and lithium-ion battery safety for unmanned undersea vehicles. In addition, ONR is working to develop aviation propulsion and turbine engine technologies to identify and mature critical, relevant variable/adaptive cycle system technologies for the next generation of carrier-based aircraft, while ensuring affordability and operational readiness.”

Ground Support
“Operations in Afghanistan forced the Marine Corps to reevaluate energy distribution and use in expeditionary environments. Marines operate over long distances in austere environments, and we are actively pursuing a wide range of ways to address the challenges of providing them with energy when and where they need it. These include lessening energy consumption and dependence on fossil fuels, while achieving resource self-sufficiency. S&T efforts focus on energy requirements of individual Marines, small dispersed units, and the tactical vehicle fleet,” Carr said. “Investments in battery technologies, portable power generation, advanced power generation from JP-8 fuel, and renewable energy from solar power, combined with technologies that reduce fuel consumption, allow greater mobility and on-board power for tactical vehicles. These projects significantly reduced energy consumption and usage in expeditionary environments. A notable example is the Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy System (GREENS) being used in Afghanistan, where platoon-level bases are powered solely via solar power. Ongoing additional evaluation of non-tactical hydrogen-powered General Motors fuel cell vehicles is occurring at Camp Pendleton and being expanded to Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe Bay, in coordination with the other services and the Department of Energy.”

“Some of the research in installation energy demand is dedicated to adopting energy-efficient structural design practices, and designing energy-neutral or low-energy structures to simplify incorporation of alternative energy systems – such as at Ilima Middle School on Oahu.

“Advanced structural concepts provide low-cost, energy-efficient facilities that are easy to install – and can be energy positive by exporting power to a grid. In partnership with the Naval Facilities Command, Hawaii is also the site of ONR research in Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, where a heat exchanger test facility has been recently installed at the Natural Energy Laboratory Hawaii Authority (NELHA) facility at Kona,” he said.

Water
“Additional research developed the widely used Navy Reverse Osmosis Advanced Research Shipboard Desalination System, as well as the Expeditionary Unit Water Purification (EUWP) system,” Carr said. “Developed for USMC expeditionary operations, EUWP was used in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina at the Biloxi Regional Medical Center and Port of Pascagoula, by the U.S. Coast Guard Station at Port Clarence, Alaska, and on the Macah Indian Reservation at Neah Bay, Wash. ONR also developed a Plasma Arc Waste Destruction System (PAWDS) for the new generation of aircraft carriers that is now being used by cruise lines, and the Micro Auto Gasification System (MAGS) for use in USMC expeditionary operations,” Carr said.

Carr told the subcommittee that “the state of our S&T investments is sound; represents careful stewardship of taxpayer dollars; and will significantly enhance the safety and performance of our warfighters as they serve in defense of the United States, today and in the future.”

This article first appeared in the Defense, Spring 2011 Edition.

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Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...