Friday, November 16, 2012

Sustainable Technology: What Can We Learn From the Military's Vision to Increase Mission Effectiveness

Think about the military and it probably conjures up images of guns, ammo and tactical vehicles - not energy and water.  Yet these two resources are critical in enabling the military’s continued operational capabilities; including maneuvers, mission command, sustaining troops and equipment and humanitarian services.  Implementing ways to reduce the manpower required to deliver fuel and water and to reduce the vulnerability to supply shortages are critical to improving readiness, minimizing casualties and reducing operational costs. 
Sustainable technologies can enable significant reductions in fuel and water and their efficacy is not lost on the military.  Indeed, the military recognizes the importance of implementation of sustainable technologies to decrease future mission constraints, increase flexibility and resilience, safeguard human health, improve Army quality of life, and enhance the natural environment.  According to the Army’s Sustainability Report 2012, “the Army’s innovative solutions in 2010-2011 lessened the logistical challenge of providing water and fuel, reducing the number of convoys needed and thus reducing the risk to Soldiers during combat operations.”

The challenge is to lighten the logistical burden on the Forward Operating Bases (FOBs).  Manpower focused on resupply is manpower not focused on the mission.  "We need to figure out how to enable our Soldiers to go out on patrol, to set up camps, without this long logistical supply train," said Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Environment and Energy Katherine Hammack. "We want to enable our Soldiers to go further with less of a supply train so that they can really fight better." 
Technology Enables Soldiers to Focus on the Mission

The military is testing technology that supports the operational base camp smart grid called SAGE for Smart and Green Energy for Base Camps program.  SAGE is using commercial off-the-shelf technologies including, utility hardware and open source control software to demonstrate and validate whether they can design a smart base camp microgrid technical specification capable of reducing the need for JP8 fuel by 30 to 60 percent at basecamps for 600 to 3,000 Soldiers.  

To test the concept and the technology the Army launched the Base Camp Integration Laboratory (BCIL) using sites modeled after forward operating bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. The BCIL is split into two 150-person camps called “Force Providers” that house energy-efficient shelters and structures within a 10-acre compound to test a micro-grid, an energy storage system, a shower and laundry water reuse system, a waste management system, a solar hot water system and a power management system.  The BCIL also provides a live Soldier environment where service members training at Fort Devens stay at the BCIL and provide input on what is being tested there. 
The solution envisioned conjures up images of a futuristic utopian society – except that the future is now.  SAGE is described as a holistic energy generation, storage, management solution.  The SAGE microgrid interconnects easily transportable purpose built shelters that consist of insulated structures as well as integrated solar with solar water heating, plug-in charging stations, integrated renewable energy, energy storage and optional interconnectivity to the grid.

Critical to understanding how this arrangement is possible is an understanding of how these technologies work together to significantly reduce fuel and water requirements.  One aspect is energy capture, another is taking advantage of renewable resources that are readily available at these remote locations, and yet another aspect is to not use the energy to begin with.  Energy efficient technology such as lighting and insulation provide opportunities to drastically cut the energy that is required to power the basecamp.  After all, the cheapest energy is the energy that is never used.

Water reduction is also a focus and water reuse drastically reduces the logistical burden on units.  “Within the Army, 70 to 80 percent of our resupply weight or convoy weight is fuel and water,” said Hammack.  Once all of the security and logistics factors are taken into account, the cost per gallon of water delivered can range between $5 to $30 according to the Army.  One saving measure tested by the BCIL is the Shower Water Reuse System (SWRS).  In simple terms, the SWRS uses a series of filters, membranes and chemicals to recycle waste or gray water for future use.  Significantly, although the water is only approve for reuse within the shower, the recycled water falls within potable quality standards.  The capacity of the system is also impressive.  Of the 12,000 gallons of water that can be treated per day, 75% of it can be reused which results in the potential savings of 9,000 gallons of water per day or 3.2 million gallons of water per year in just one shower facility.
The Army evaluates technology in terms of force multipliers. In this case, use of SWRS reduces the water required for transport which in turn, reduces the number of water convoys and the Soldiers that would be on those water convoys are now available to remain engaged in the mission.  The SWRS also impacts placement of new FOBs because strategic considerations can weigh more heavily on location determination rather than ease of resupply.   "We need to figure out how to enable our Soldiers to go out on patrol, to set up camps, without this long logistical supply train," said Hammack. "We want to enable our Soldiers to go further with less of a supply train so that they can really fight better."

If successful, these technologies are immediately rolled out to remote FOBs like Afghanistan and the return on investment is almost instant.  Each SWRS system costs roughly $170,000. If used to its fullest capacity, the Army could realize a potential savings of millions of dollars per unit each year. It is this type of innovation that the Army is banking on to enhance their capability and "do more with less," according to Army officials.

Ideally, like the Internet and GPS, both technologies that were developed by the military and subsequently commercialized to transform the consumer market, these concepts could be used to support resilient domestic civilian communities.  The recent strike of Hurricane Sandy left 8 million people without power.  Building sustainable communities that use less power, mitigate risk and use more renewable energy resources could help protect against increasingly complex and disastrous weather patterns.  Sustainable technology is not just about being green.  Ask the military – sustainable technologies enable mission effectiveness.