Cadets bring the heat to Rapid Equipping Force

By Mike Strasser, West Point Public AffairsMay 18, 2012

Generating Heat
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

WEST POINT, N.Y. (May, 16, 2012) -- Ask any Soldier in the field what a hot shower can do for troop morale. Unfortunately, there are places they go where such simple luxuries are scarce.

Four cadets presented a way to make it possible now and placed first in the inaugural Rapid Equipping Force Grand Challenge.

After a year of research and testing, Class of 2012 Cadets Jacob Baxter, Luke Grant, Isaac Melnick and Jake Young briefed a judging panel May 7, on their Waste Heat Cogeneration System. The design harnesses the principle of cogeneration to take waste heat from a generator to make hot showers. The fully-developed system uses material that is commercially available and can be modified and rapidly fielded to Soldiers in theater.

During their presentation, cadets briefed how generators currently used in the Army waste up to 80 percent of the fuel energy put into them. Harvesting that wasted energy was the basis of their project and they designed a way to use a 5-kilowatt amp generator to route the hot exhaust to a gas water heater.

They provided three configurations of the system and, in each one, water starting at a temperature of 60 F can be heated to 110 F. In their worst-case scenario, it took more than four hours to heat. In their best configuration, that temperature was reached in just over two hours for 50 gallons of water; enough for a decent shower, they figured, for 10 individuals.

Additionally, if the water gets too hot they added a pressure release valve for safety. Along with improving morale, the system would also reduce a unit's fuel footprint. There's an added security benefit by reducing the number of convoys sent out for fuel resupplies.

The theme of the REF challenge was sustainable energy solutions, and three other teams competing briefed on an energy management system, a bio-gas digester system and a Force Provider water treatment system.

Col. Steve Bristow, the REF program manager, said he personally has experienced the problems these teams addressed in their projects and appreciated their pursuit in solving these issues for the Army.

"These are real-world issues that we wrestle with and we are impressed with the efforts and work you did to help solve real-world problems and Soldier issues," Bristow said.

The winning team also briefed Katherine Hammack, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installation, Energy and Environment, during Projects Day May 3, and placed in the annual USMA-MIT Soldier Design Competition, earning the Lockheed-Martin Prize. Their design is currently under consideration for a patent by the Army.

Members of each team received certificates of appreciation from REF, including the project advisors. Recognizing the team effort involved, Bristow wanted to thank the advisors for the assistance and guidance they provide cadets.

"A couple of years ago we came here with some issues with pressure plates and how to counter pressure plate IEDs (improvised explosive devices). We were going off on the wrong track because we hadn't taken time to study what it actually took to set a pressure plate off, how much pressure per square inch. Your team took that task and provided us with the information and got us on the right track, and we have tools in the theater now working to defeat those pressure plates and saving lives," Bristow said. "Everything you do here does make a contribution. We've had interns from West Point come down and help us with some tough projects; we have four more coming down this summer. We hope that continues."

The REF Challenge is one of those great examples, Lt. Col. Bruce Floersheim said, of a favorable result directly linked from the academy hosting Projects Day.

"This came about last Projects Day when a team from the Rapid Equipping Force came out to see what this was all about," Floersheim, director of the Center for Innovation and Engineering, said. "They heard about Projects Day at West Point and that other Army agencies work with cadets and faculty, so they wanted to see it for themselves."

Floersheim, who also manages West Point's participation in the USMA-MIT Soldier Design Competition, worked with REF over the summer to create this new challenge for cadets.

"They liked it, decided to fund it and they were thrilled with the results," Floersheim said. "I was in there when the judges were deliberating, and they were immensely impressed with the work across the board; impressed with the level of effort, the maturity and poise of all the cadets who presented their solutions; and the fact that each project offered real solutions to real-world Soldier issues."

So much so, that following the awards ceremony, Bristow said they'll be coming up with a new selection of challenges for cadets next year.

"I don't know what the next challenge will be, but we are sure you are up to it, and we'll work hard to come up with something new to bring to the team here," Bristow said.

Bristow said although only one champion team could be named, all four projects deserve further attention, and support, from the REF. Five cadets and their advisor will field their Bio-Gas Digester System in Uganda for several weeks this summer, and Bristow said they'd be interested in following the progress made upon their return in July.

That project is the only one that can claim to be interdisciplinary among its members, and Floersheim said it is his intention in future competitions to find ways for any interested department to make contributions.

The four teams this year represented three departments; Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Civil Mechanical Engineering and Geography and Environmental Engineering.

Dean of the Academic Board Brig. Gen. Timothy Trainor said that competitions like the REF Challenge demonstrate that education today is not just about classroom learning.

"What REF provides is the opportunity to bring that education to life," Trainor said. "This allows our great faculty members to show the application and provide an unstructured real-world problem that has to be solved, using the tools, the knowledge and the characteristics and traits our faculty has developed in the cadets. It's very important to us that we have this opportunity for both our cadets and faculty."

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