FORT KNOX, Ky. — Every chance he was given, Fort Knox Energy manager R.J. Dyrdek told anybody who would listen what the Central Kentucky installation needed for its next big step toward total energy resilience.

In two words: fuel cells.

On Aug. 23, officials at the Department of Energy’s Federal Energy Management Program heard his story. Fort Knox made the cut among 19 federal agencies to receive a portion of a $28.1 million grant.

DOE awards grant to Fort Knox for next phase of energy resilience
The new fuel cell technology, which has yet to be designed or developed by engineers in the Directorate of Public Works’ Energy Program at Fort Knox, will connect to existing energy systems and increase Fort Knox’s energy resilience exponentially, says Energy manager R.J. Dyrdek. (Photo Credit: Fort Knox News archive image) VIEW ORIGINAL

“The energy team here has expected or wanted to get fuel cells here for probably close to six years now,” said Dyrdek. “We think that’s the best solution for reducing our carbon footprint using natural gas, the byproduct being water. It also gives us the ability to run a constant baseload within a couple of years.

“This is the next step from where we were in 2015 with peak shaving and some of the technologies we used to accomplish that.”

The big news from DOE started Dec. 2, 2022, when officials at FEMP issued what they call a Federal Agency Call, or FAC, to offer grant assistance under a 2022 appropriations line item called Assisting Federal Facilities with Energy Conservation Technologies, AFFECT.

“These grants will support various initiatives such as energy-efficiency measures, renewable energy installations, load management strategies, and resilience improvements,” according to an information paper released by FEMP. “By implementing these projects, federal agencies aim to achieve their missions more efficiently and generate economic benefits by attracting private investment, creating jobs, and adopting American-made technologies.”

The grant to Fort Knox will fund a project that introduces two energy conservation measures: the 800-kW natural gas fuel cells and a 1,750-kWh battery energy storage system, which allows for the storage of excess energy from renewable sources.

Dyrdek said the project, should it work, will give them more than just indefinite energy independence, which is something they have proven to be successful.

“If we want to run 100% of the time without commercial power, we’ll need about 12 megawatts,” said Dyrdek. “We’re only going to use less than 1 megawatt with about 2 megawatts of storage. That won’t keep us running 100% of the time, but we’ll be the first Army installation to use fuel cells.

Dyrdek said Fort Knox will be the testing ground for the fuel cells concept: one that has yet to be designed.

“We are just beginning to think through the ideas, and where and how best to install the fuel cells,” he said.

Dyrdek has been anticipating the use of fuel cells for a long time. He sees their use as vital to the future of Fort Knox energy resilience.

“The potential is, we could run independently all the time and only use commercial power as a backup if we actually need it,” said Dyrdek. “But, in conjunction with our utility company, we’ll work that way together, and what fits everybody’s needs.”

Dyrdek said the fuel cells could potentially convert into added benefits.

“Currently, the military can’t put power back into a community, so we don’t want to have too much,” said Dyrdek. “If they get some of the legislative and regulatory issues resolved, we could help the community when they need power, or we could run by ourselves when they don’t need to supply us.

“There are big solutions if we can technologically make the fuel cells work; then we could potentially be even better partners to our community.”