Fueling shelters at half the cost

By Bob Reinert, USAG-Natick Public AffairsFebruary 3, 2012

Fueling shelters at half the cost
Amy Klopotoski of the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center leads a joint-service team whose goal is to cut energy use in shelter systems by 50 percent using such means as thermal insulation and energy-efficient lighting. Annual... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

NATICK, Mass. (Jan. 26, 2012) -- Imagine cutting your home fuel-consumption costs in half.

That would be tough enough in a conventional house. Now think about trying it in a tent.

Don't tell Amy Klopotoski that it can't be done. As the Contingency Basing Science and Technology lead in the Shelter Technology, Engineering and Fabrication Directorate at Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, it's her goal to help a joint Army-Air Force team achieve that goal over the next three years.

With funding from the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs, Klopotoski heads the joint team under a program known as "Advanced, Energy-Efficient Shelter Systems for Contingency Basing and Other Applications."

In simpler terms, Klopotoski will trim kilowatts wherever she can find them on contingency bases to eventually lop off that 50 percent.

What's the urgency?

"Quantities of fuel consumption on the battlefield are quite high," Klopotoski said. "And every time you need to get fuel to the battlefield, it takes Soldiers away from their mission. They have to address security for resupply. It makes them vulnerable."

"So not only are you taking them away from their mission, you're putting them in dangerous situations," she explained. "Anything we can do to cut down on those numbers of convoys, cut down on that dependence on the fuel, frees up Soldiers so that they can be doing their job, doing their mission."

Weapons at Klopotoski's disposal include solar shades, thermal insulation, right-sized environmental control units, and energy-efficient lighting.

"There's all this stuff that's going on and exists," Klopotoski said. "The intention of this project is to take some things that we know work, technically, mature them, ruggedize them a little bit more, and then prove them out in the field."

Klopotoski figures that using mature technologies could cut energy use in shelter systems by 25-30 percent. She said she hopes further technological refinements and developments over the next couple of years will get her team the rest of the way. Based on a projected fuel cost of $15 per gallon, the payoff could be substantial.

"We're looking at $550 million per year in fuel savings in the shelter systems," Klopotoski said.

Klopotoski knows, however, that energy efficiency must come through technologies that are durable, portable and lightweight. Otherwise, they will be of little use to Soldiers and Airmen in the field.

"There are a lot of tradeoffs," Klopotoski said. "One of the biggest hurdles is getting these technologies that we know a lot about and putting them into a form that is beneficial to (them) so that it's easy to use, it's simple, easy to maintain and affordable. I'm sure we can come up with concepts, but can we get there so it's in a package that can meet the unique needs of military applications?"

In the short term, the answer is likely to be some combination of refitting existing shelters and introducing new systems. The future could be different.

"We've had a lot of advances in the shelter world," Klopotoski said. "I think we have to think beyond today (to) what we're going to do down the road. You might be able to drop a box, and essentially it opens and it has everything you need, and basically it sets itself up."

Whatever the team comes up with will be tested in fiscal year 2014 by Soldiers and Airmen in theater and in the continental united states.

"We plan on sending them into a real operational environment," Klopotoski said. "We haven't selected the exact location yet to demonstrate that 50-percent reduction."

Klopotoski knows that the team's work is cut out for it, but she relishes the challenge to come through for Soldiers and Airmen.

"It is an ambitious goal," Klopotoski said. "We're really excited that we can have a sort of formalized joint-service team on the same project. We might have different base camp systems, but across the board, everybody's got the same goals in terms of reducing manpower requirements, reducing the logistics burden, and being more energy efficient."

Related Links:

Army Technology Live: Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center

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New lab aims to save energy at base camps

Army.mil: Science and Technology News

STAND-TO!: Army Operational Energy Strategy