More and more people are taking notice of Fort Knox's cutting-edge energy innovation.

The latest recognition came in the form of two Secretary of the Army Energy Awards last week -- one for Energy and Water Resilience and the other for Individual Exceptional Performance -- during the Annual Federal Energy Exchange Conference held in Denver, Colorado, Aug. 22.

These two distinctions, combined with 12 previous Secretary of the Army Energy Awards since 1998, make the installation the most decorated in the Army for energy independence and innovation. Fort Knox also enjoys the distinction of being the only Army installation to date to successfully sustain energy independence without reliance on external resources.

"It's a big deal in front of a big audience," said RJ Dyrdek, Directorate of Public Works energy manager, about earning the awards in front of his peers. "Just the event is impressive, and then to get an award in the event is that much more impressive."

Besides the 14 Secretary of Army awards, officials from DPW picked up four national-level Illuminating Engineer Society awards earlier this month for innovative lighting projects that have already saved the Army countless millions of dollars (see story link below). That project focused on lighting and air conditioning projects.

The latest award for energy and water resilience has honored Fort Knox's ability to remove itself from the area power grid and run the installation independently. Officials conducted the proof of concept Oct. 24, 2018. The primary goal of that directive is to ensure Army installations are capable of operating critical missions if the power was to go out by providing necessary water and energy for a minimum of 14 days.

"We exercised it last October with all the dignitaries here, and we watched it work flawlessly," said Dyrdek. "We hope to do it again Oct. 23 this year."

Fort Knox officials designed the energy and water resilience project to meet and exceed the standard by converting natural gas, extracted from underneath the installation, into electricity at power generating sites on post. This process, in conjunction with diesel power generation, allows for the production of more than enough energy to power the entire post -- when needed -- to reduce energy costs, ensure continuous operations of installation and global missions, and eliminate dependency during widespread power outages on external power companies, according to DPW officials.

The winner of the Individual Exceptional Performance award at the event has been intricately involved in the project from the beginning -- for more than 39 years -- having witnessed every one of the 14 awards. Patrick Walsh, director of DPW, said every project that has been awarded became a reality because of a team effort.

"This award was built on the shoulders of others. I don't want to claim that I was the guy," said Walsh. "I just helped enable people to do the right thing, and that's probably the reason I got the award."

Dyrdek agreed.

"The team effort is very clear here at Knox compared to everywhere else," said Dyrdek. "We have complete commitment from the command staff; we have complete commitment from all the occupants and all the commands that work here -- everybody knows that when you come to Fort Knox, you do a good job with your energy conservation and it pays off."

Walsh was working on energy at DPW when he first joined the team at Fort Knox in the 1980s.

"The first project I cut my teeth on as a GS-7 engineer was energy-related because when you replace gas lines, you're saving energy, and when you replace leaking water lines, you're saving energy and water," said Walsh.

Later in the decade, he became the energy manager before promoting to operations maintenance division chief and eventually to the DPW director position.

"The lesson I learned from my early career was, you can practice and implement and develop energy conservation every day," said Walsh.

He explained that the desire for Fort Knox leaders to become energy independent began during a severe ice storm that hit the area in 2009, when the post was left powerless for an extended period of time. Walsh said he and others determined then that they would not be crippled like that again. Nine years later, they saw that desire become a reality.

While Fort Knox is the only installation at the moment with its level of energy autonomy, Dyrdek admits it can still only run at about 85% independence beyond the 14 days -- something he and other DPW engineers are scheming to remedy.

"I spent quite a bit of time at the conference lobbying for fuel cells," said Dyrdek. "Microsoft built a headquarters out in California recently that is immense, and they're powering the entire structure with fuel cells, so it's a real emerging technology that would take away our base load.

"That's technology that would fit into Fort Knox's system really well. Then, we wouldn't require any external utilities; we would run ourselves at 100%."