By ARL Public AffairsJuly 24, 2018
ADELPHI, Md. -- A visiting West Point professor at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory is studying ways that the Army can bolster energy efficiency and, in turn, save lives abroad.
Lt. Col. Corey James, a 1999 graduate of West Point, will work alongside ARL researchers until mid-August.
As shown in recent conflicts, the Army relies on vast amounts of fuel and energy transported across supply lines that are difficult and dangerous to defend. To address this problem, James is conducting a summer research collaboration at the laboratory, where he is analyzing how to make technology platforms and squad operations run more efficiently.
"In simple terms, you can apply rigorous optimization and control to all of our systems as we build them, which reduces cost and waste," James said. "I'm showing a way to do that with energy systems."
James is currently developing a preliminary proposal for a phased project addressing problems with energy efficiency in the Army. The research examines energy challenges at the squad and system level.
An example of a vulnerability at the squad level is the frequency of convoys transporting fuel in areas like Iraq. With each energy transport, the driver and the passengers are at risk of enemy attacks.
By optimizing energy use, resupplying a base camp three times per week could be reduced to one, lessening the number of Soldiers traveling along vulnerable roads.
"Convoys in Iraq are dangerous to those who drive them," James said. "They make easy targets. Any time you make something more efficient than it was yesterday, you're helping with that problem and saving lives. Because if they're not out there, they don't get blown up."
On the other hand, a focus on efficiency at the systems level involves finding solutions that increase the autonomy and operating range of Soldiers.
For instance, the Squad-Multipurpose Equipment Transport, or SMET, is a robotic vehicle that is capable of carrying up to 1,000 pounds.
SMET and other emerging technology may lighten the load that Soldiers have to transport during missions and potentially extend the operations.
However, such systems require optimization if they are to maximize efficiency, which is the focus of James' research.
"This research will enhance the system's capability to sustain small units by rigorous control of all energy sources and sinks," James said. "In other words, improving the technology at the system level will maximize the energy available to do work, extend mission time and reduce risk to the force."
In addition, systems defined by percentages are often inadequate and difficult to define based on many variables.
James' research also advocates defining systems through exergy, or datasets displaying the actual work a technology such as SMET is capable of doing.
"If I just picked up your phone and it said 30 percent, that could mean five minutes or 10 hours," James said. "What we want to do is calculate the system's ability to do work in real time."
According to James, the savings associated with increased energy efficiency are twofold.
First, money saved through energy efficiency can be transferred into other domestic areas, such as training, fielding new weapons or research. Second, saving energy abroad at the base camp or forward operating base can minimize the logistical burden of manning supply lines, which reduces risks to Soldiers.
"The idea is, in simple terms, that you can apply rigorous optimization and control to all the systems in the military as they build them to reduce cost and reduce waste," James said. "Take the infrastructure that you have and apply some control and optimization to make it more efficient. So over time, you make those things better so that it pays for itself."
James acknowledges that prioritizing energy savings requires a certain degree of cultural change in the Army, where efficiency has traditionally taken a backseat.
The energy concepts under James' research have applications outside of the Department of Defense.
In an article published in Processes Journal (2017), James discusses energy and water waste in civilian and military water systems, such as waste treatment or desalination plants, which are often built with little consideration for efficiency.
"If we lead with respect to water, you can see a scenario where our efforts as a country and an Army could actually reduce and minimize conflict," James said. "There's a term in America called the 'energy-water nexus.' The problems associated with making both water and energy systems more efficient are very similar. You can apply a lot of the same principles to both types of systems."
James received his doctorate in chemical engineering from University of Texas at Austin in 2017.
His 75-day research visit at ARL will end Aug. 17.
The U.S. Army Research Laboratory is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.