By Chris Williams, Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering CenterAugust 1, 2011
DETROIT ARSENAL, Mich., Aug. 2, 2011 -- As the price of oil continues to fluctuate and the Nation searches for fuel-efficiency and an energy future independent of foreign oil, the U.S. Department of Energy and Department of the Army are collaborating to address this pressing national security issue.
The Advanced Vehicle Power and Technology Alliance aligns experts from across U.S. Department of Energy, or DoE, Department of the Army, or DA, and industry to explore solutions for decreasing petroleum dependence, increasing fuel efficiency and enhancing the Nation's energy security infrastructure.
"We have the same vision," remarked U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center Director Grace M. Bochenek. "This is a good partnership that will provide us the opportunity to share capabilities and access resources that we couldn't alone. It will help us accelerate technology development, drive innovation, increase the value of our research investments and, at the same time, address the national energy need."
Transporting fuel to the battlefield and distributing it in theater are among the Army's most significant cost drivers. In fiscal year 2010, the Army spent $2.6 billion on fuel alone. Asymmetric threats have placed an increased burden on military vehicles, increasing weight demands and driving the need for greater energy-efficient technologies. Meanwhile, the requirement to keep warfighters expeditionary and global remains vital.
"Mobility is the core of our military capability," remarked Sharon E. Burke, assistant secretary of defense for Operational Energy, Plans and Programs. "On the ground, in the air and at sea you have to be able to move. That's where our challenge is going to be going forward, because we will continue to be a military that has mobility at its heart."
Military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, coupled with the growing worldwide demand for fuel, have contributed to volatility in oil prices felt everywhere, from the battlefield to the corner pump. In addition to the $2.6 billion the Army spent on fuel in fiscal year 2010, the United States spends an estimated $1 billion per day importing oil.
"We have to break out of this," stressed U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. "We have to invest in a clean energy future that will break our dependence on oil and diversify our transportation sector."
The global need for increased energy efficiency has set the stage for a potential energy race. As countries across the world begin to develop clean, efficient and affordable energy solutions -- such as solar panels, wind turbines, advanced batteries, storage grids and hybrid vehicles -- energy security will have important economic consequences, and the U.S. needs to be at the forefront of technology innovation to stay ahead of this emerging market segment.
"Those countries that develop the most efficient technologies will have a world market," Chu stated. "If we don't get moving, we'll be importing these new technologies rather than exporting them."
Both the Department of Defense and DoE have tapped their cadre of experts to conduct important research and development into mobility, fuel efficiency and potential alternative energy solutions. It only makes sense, Chu pointed out, for each agency to leverage the insights that result from this work.
"DoD has great research and development capabilities, such as TARDEC, and they have purchasing power," Chu commented. "They can serve as a technology test bed and create a market to help drive down costs and help move technologies to the marketplace."
"By increasing our cooperation on advanced vehicle technologies, the DoE and the U.S. Army can accelerate the development and deployment of cutting-edge technologies that will decrease our dependence on oil," he continued. "Through this alliance, we can strengthen our military, our national security and our economy. Our work together can help create a clean energy economy that will create jobs and make America more competitive."
The AVPT partnership was announced at the July 18-19 workshop that closely examined areas of interest that could serve as common ground for collaboration, including:
-- Advanced combustion engines and transmissions
-- Lightweight structures and materials
-- Energy recovery and thermal management
-- Alternative fuels and lubricants
-- Hybrid propulsion systems, including batteries
-- Analytical tools
Chu noted that there are several areas where each agency's experience may prove beneficial, including blast protection and improvised explosive device defeat.
"DoE actually knows explosives probably comparably to the Army. During the Manhattan Project, we had to know precisely what an explosive did to implode plutonium and uranium," he explained. "We have kept up this capability over the decades, so we can simulate explosions very well. With DoE's expertise in high-performance computing, perhaps we can simulate what materials have the lightest weight and determine the most protective armor for our Soldiers."
Likewise, Army advances in energy management on installations and at forward operating bases may hold the key to efficiently managing energy in cities throughout the United States.
"We would like to imagine an Army base that, a few years from now, may operate on geothermal power, have buildings and structures powered by solar panels and is attached to microgrids where we plug in electric vehicles to store energy," explained Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations and Environment Katherine Hammack. "A base that's able to complete its mission if our nation's fragile grids get hit with human or natural threats. A base that could be a blueprint for American communities to learn from and develop [logical] approaches to ensure we have similar and reliable resources."
The Alliance took its first major steps forward as associates from DoE, DA and industry gathered to discuss their organizations' respective energy needs and technology research focuses. The workshop addressed each key area for potential collaboration, including hybrid-electric vehicles, advanced batteries, lightweight materials, and alternative and renewable fuels.
While many participants acknowledged that viable solutions may still be years away, Under Secretary of the Army Joseph Westphal emphasized the importance of advance planning to support the future force, and accelerating potential technology solutions wherever possible.
"This is an opportunity for innovation to have a broader perspective to it," he explained. "The Army has huge energy demands across our platforms for everything from generators, batteries and robotics. There's a lot of ambiguity in the future. This work will help us think about whether we can make significant progress in reducing costs, protecting the environment and shaping a better world for all of us."
"Strong partnerships between government and the private sector will be crucial to rapidly developing solutions, especially in an era of economic uncertainty," Westphal continued. "To make this partnership work, we really need industry and academia to participate, because the innovation is really going to come from them. We need to be able to push this faster and extend all of this forward. So our efforts are to get that innovation and push it to industry."
It's a challenge that industry experts are willing to accept, and workshop participants lauded the progress in breaking through bureaucratic red tape.
"There is no question that we have learned how to break down the 'industry/government wall,'" remarked General Motors Vice President of Global Research and Design Alan Taub. "I think the challenge now is how we find the common ground between the military and commercial needs and create the right kind of working relationship with the military vehicle suppliers and these two government agencies and actually put projects in place."
Detailed workshop findings are being compiled, and an announcement of initial projects for joint consideration is expected later this year. Both agencies are looking ahead to see what benefits might be possible both in the near- and far-term.
"Both the Army and DoE have long-standing traditions of working with vehicle technology, as well as a history of working together," stated Program Manager for DoE Vehicle Technologies Program Patrick Davis. "We hope the vehicle-related work that takes place under this relationship will grow and help future organizations achieve these goals faster and more effectively."
"It was apparent that there are a lot of places where there are opportunities for collaboration," remarked Bochenek. "What we need to do now is figure out the long-term relationship. How do we take those opportunities, and what key things do we need to do?"
Westphal remarked that the partnership may provide significant benefits to both the Army and the private sector.
"President Obama has made it clear that now is the time to secure our energy future," Westphal said. "We must increase efficiency in Army vehicles to accomplish this vital national goal."
"This powerful collaboration between the Army and DoE will ultimately support our Soldiers and forces, both abroad and here at home, by providing vehicles that are lighter, more efficient, less dependent on carbon fuels, and yet survivable and sustainable," he continued. "They will provide the platforms for the next generation of fighting systems that are good for the environment and still meet the Army's military mission requirements."