By Mr. Dan Lafontaine (RDECOM)May 18, 2012
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- The U.S. Army's science and technology command center in Afghanistan is unburdening Soldiers by improving power and energy capabilities in theater.
Michael Zalewski, a mechanical engineer with the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, deployed to Bagram Airfield from September 2011 to February 2012. He supported Operation Enduring Freedom by reducing the logistics burden of fuel on Soldiers.
Zalewski served as the power and energy subject matter expert for the RDECOM Field Assistance in Science and Technology-Center, or RFAST-C, which brings civilian engineers and technicians to a central location to provide scientific solutions directly in theater.
"These technologies [unburden] the Soldier from the logistics tail of fuel supplies. There are correlations between fuel convoys and casualties," he said. "This unburdens them from having to worry about their fuel supply.
"It enables them to focus more on their immediate mission and less on logistics."
RFAST-C became fully operational in December 2011 at the 401st Army Field Support Brigade.
DEPLOYING TECHNOLOGIES TO THEATER
Zalewski's primary task at RFAST-C was the Energy Initiative Proving Ground, which focused on bringing combat-ready technologies from RDECOM's seven research and engineering centers into the field. He tested and validated these technologies.
"The largest impact that I had was bringing forward the shovel-ready technologies, which were able to make an immediate impact on Soldiers' lives in the field," said Zalewski, who has worked at RDECOM's Communications--Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center for seven years. "Not only being able to bring this technology forward, but being able to bring back the firsthand understanding of the needs and requirements of the user."
The Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs funded the Energy Initiative Proving Ground as a three-part effort, he said.
The first part is to reduce energy demand through advanced environmental control units or increasing the thermal resistance of shelters to provide lower heating and cooling loads. The second is purifying water in the field instead of transporting bottled water. Renewable energy (solar panels) powered this process to reduce the logistics demands. The final part is insulating the semi-permanent wooden structures used as barracks with thermal insulation to reduce heating and cooling requirements.
IMPLEMENTING INTELLIGENT POWER
The RFAST-C also supported the Afghan Microgrid Project, which was led by Project Manager Mobile Electric Power, the military's procurement and support agency for electric power generation on tactical battlefields.
Microgrids are designed to provide power independently of traditional grids and to integrate multiple sources of energy for use and storage.
Through AMP, the Army demonstrated an intelligent grid of generators and power distribution so that power production could be accurately and dynamically matched to the demand, Zalewski said.
"It was a natural fit for RDECOM to provide an engineer to support the PM MEP effort overseas due to our extensive background in developing microgrid technologies, renewable energy technologies, and power distribution," he said.
AMP incorporates technologies being deployed to theater. This includes small-scale renewable energies in the 3- to 5-kilowatt range with solar panels and energy-storage devices, as well as larger microgrid technologies such as the Load-Demand Start-Stop system, which networks legacy generators to form a microgrid.
Zalewski assumed oversight of AMP's 1-megawatt microgrid for PM MEP, which was unable to continue supporting the project directly. This system demonstrated a 17 percent reduction in fuel consumption, an 85 percent reduction in generator operating hours, and 67 percent lower maintenance costs.
Before redeploying, he transferred oversight and operation of the microgrid to his replacement, Gregory Dogum, Army Materiel Systems Analysis Activity.
BRINGING SOLDIER FEEDBACK BACK INTO THE LAB
By interacting with Soldiers and fellow scientists for six months at Bagram Airfield, Zalewski said he gained a greater understanding of technology and engineering requirements.
"Some of the greatest value from my deployment was [bringing] back many lessons learned and insight from the field," he said. "Sgt. Maj. Matt De Lay, the RFAST-C noncommissioned officer-in-charge, conducted an extensive series of battlefield circulations covering all the regional commands in Afghanistan. Using the knowledge and information he gathered, I provided engineering insight and analysis back to RDECOM.
"I was able to identify users' needs and gaps. [I was able] to get firsthand user feedback on the technologies that we're developing, bring this home, plug it into our R&D developments, and provide this feedback to the engineers developing future technology."