ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Jan. 13, 2015) - As command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities have continued to increase for the individual Soldier and across the battlefield, so have the power and energy requirements to support these devices.
The U.S. Army’s power and energy community continues to develop novel and advance power and energy technologies to support the growing demand. Creating innovative and efficient power generation and conversion technologies and more effective methods to predict, manage and distribute power, allows Soldiers to operate longer between resupply and conduct more effective and expeditionary missions.
The U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center’s Command, Power and Integration Directorate (CERDEC CP&I), an element of the U.S. Army Materiel Command’s Research, Development and Engineering Command, creates interoperable power solutions that maximize Soldier and Small Unit mission effectiveness, reduce the power burden to the Soldier, and enable energy independence – power at any location with minimized resupply.
CP&I is actively contributing to addressing the Army’s future needs in support of Force 2025 and Beyond initiatives with efforts that reflect the Army’s goals of maximizing demand reduction and enhancing expeditionary capabilities.
The power and energy work under CP&I’s Energy Informed Operations, or EIO, and Tactical Power Generation projects work to provide more expeditionary, efficient and lightweight-power sources a scalable force structure.
CP&I’s EIO project focuses on providing optimized and customizable power with increased efficiency and reduced logistics demands. EIO enables the more effective use of available power on the battlefield by examining the introduction of tactical microgrids and developing two key concepts: the automation of power resources to more closely match supply with demand and the communication of power situational awareness to inform and be informed by mission needs.
The emerging technology of microgrids, a localized grouping of electricity generation, distribution and loads that operate apart from a traditional centralized power grid, allows for more efficient use of energy resources compared with the legacy technique of spot generation. Deploying microgrids enables users to consolidate loads and more closely match supply with demand, thus decreasing the amount of wasted energy. Under EIO, the Army is developing open-standards interface specifications that would allow new, more efficient power sources to be incorporated into the system easily without a large integration effort. Furthermore, these open standards allow companies to innovate to create more powerful, lightweight systems while still maintaining compatibility with existing equipment. These standards will allow interconnectivity between different platforms, for example vehicle to grid or Soldier to vehicle.
In addition to developing open standards, the project envisions an EIO-compatible application that will update Soldiers on their power and consumption use so they can better allocate their power sources. The intelligent systems will provide data to power software that can display the status of a system in an easy, intuitive manner and provide users with an artificial-intelligence-type knowledge base that will help them understand how to fix problems and will guide them through fixes on the fly. These intuitive features can increase operational efficiency by easing the training burden and manpower requirements for the future force. Finally, the EIO will provide users with planning capabilities that allow the best use and deployment of resources available.
Advances in the component technologies developed under CP&I’s Tactical Power Generation program for integration with the EIO framework also play an important role in supporting the future force.
In addition to the power management technologies being developed under the EIO project, CP&I is applying research, development and systems engineering to provide the lightest, most fuel-efficient and cost-effective power sources in terms of tactical power generation, storage and the application of alternative and renewable energy technologies. These efforts will lighten the Soldier’s load and logistics burden by providing lightweight and high-energy-density compact power sources, while also supporting expeditionary maneuvers through power options with longer runtime.
Several key components under the Tactical Power Generation efforts that support Force 2025 include fuel reformation, robust mission extenders, energy harvesting and wireless power.
Fuel Reformation/Fuel Synthesis
Fuel is the second largest transported item in the field next to water. As a result, fuel truck convoys that deliver fuel are vulnerable to enemy attacks, which the Army identified as a critical and future force gap as it has resulted in loss of lives, money, and time.
Scientists and engineers from across RDECOM work to lessen the reliance on fuel truck convoys for the Current and Future Force by reducing the amount of military fuel, called Jet Propellant 8, or JP-8, the Army needs in theater and improving the efficiency of its use.
One way researchers are doing this is by reforming JP-8 through high-temperature catalytic reactions that covert a liquid fuel, in this case JP-8, into a lighter, gaseous fuel. Reformed fuel can then be used in efficient portable energy systems, like fuel cells, or in more traditional park-ignition or diesel engines to either enable or improve combustion with JP-8 and to provide multi-fuel operation capability; all of which give the Soldier greater flexibility and reduced logistic support in the field.
Fuel reforming is a leap-ahead Force 2025 technology that could allow JP-8 to be transformed into valuable fuels that Soldiers use and generate on the battlefield forward. CP&I wants to reform JP-8 locally instead of shipping propane, methanol, kerosene and gasoline.
In addition to fuel reformation, CP&I is working to synthesize fuel in the field via catalytic processes use materials organic to military operations, in combination with alternative energy sources. The goal is to assemble a hydrocarbon fuel from available waste streams that provides value to the Soldier at or near the point of use. For example, Soldiers could use carbon dioxide from engine exhaust and hydrogen from water electrolysis, via solar power, to synthesis a hydrocarbon fuel.
Robust Mission Extender Power Sources
In addition to large supplies of fuel for general military operations, batteries create their own burden on the Soldier. It takes a lot of batteries to sustain critical dismounted operations, and Small Unit operations require a high amount of battery swapping due to lack of portable power sources. Today’s Soldier is weighed down with many bulky and heavy batteries with limited run times. To address these issues, Soldiers and Small Units require safe power sources that are small and lightweight with a sufficient amount of energy to provide continuous power to communications and electronics systems during operational missions.
Robust mission extenders include conformal batteries, which are thin and flexible, to reduce the burden of batteries on the Soldier. One possible solution developed by CP&I to decrease that burden includes the Conformal Wearable Battery (CWB), a thin, lightweight battery that conforms to the body and integrates seamlessly into a Soldier’s body armor. The CWB can be worn in either the side, chest or back pouches with the ballistic protective plates, where it is virtually invisible and transparent to the Soldier. This power solution significantly reduces battery swaps as well as the variety of battery quantities the Soldier has to carry.
The Future Force 2025 goal for the CWB is to incorporate it with extremely light, next-generation, lithium-based electrochemical robust materials. This will significantly increase energy content and further reduce weight, enabling CWB to provide Soldiers in austere environments with continuous power for more than 72 hours.
Another option being explored is kinetics: harvesting energy from the Soldier’s own movements and surroundings. CP&I is researching and developing kinetic and solar energy harvesting efforts to prove out new materiel solutions for charging on-the-go, and is developing test methodologies to evaluate prototype systems during program development. Energy harvesting devices reduce the overall battery load the Soldier carries.
Soldiers create kinetic energy when they perform common movement activities such as walking. CERDEC CP&I - as part of a joint service team with RDECOM’s Army Research Laboratory and Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, the Office of Naval Research, and the Naval Surface Warfare Center - evaluates potential kinetic harvesting solutions to further develop and implement these solutions for service members. Currently, CP&I and its partner organizations are looking at an electricity generating assault pack and a mechanical insole, which could be used inside of the boot or shoe to help harvest Soldiers’ kinetic energy.
Researchers are also evaluating these types of kinetic solutions for ergonomic benefits to the Warfighter and considering the life cycle and logistics impacts possible with novel prototype technologies.
CP&I research to support the future force includes developing wireless capabilities for power transmission. Efficient energy transfer from source to load for Soldier, remote sensors and mobile platforms could occur without use of electrical contacts or wires.
Researchers are currently experimenting with magnetic and electric resonant coupling to achieve wireless power transfer over short to moderate distances focusing on vehicle and tactical operations center applications.
One effort looks at allowing the Soldier to wirelessly recharge from any military vehicle seat configured with a transmitting coil. This effort pairs inductive coupling with e-textiles, or conductive fabric, routed through the protective vest or load carriage to demonstrate a future Soldier capability that will not require cabling for recharge of electronic devices.
Research will continue to optimize the efficiency and range of power transmission. Related efforts are experimenting with the current operational limitations of the technology as well as applying the new technologies to table top electronics and long term storage requirements.
The future intent will be to develop longer range wireless power transmission technologies that are both safe and suitable for military operations. Research will include LASER and microwave power transmission for extended range recharging.
As researchers continue to develop high-tech capabilities for military use, the need for power and energy continues to grow; however, Soldiers cannot afford to carry and maintain individual power supplies and remote locations cannot remain dependent on current power supplies alone.
CERDEC CP&I’s continued partnerships across the DOD will allow for lighter, more efficient power sources that will not only save time, money and lives, but also decrease the weight of power supplies Soldiers must carry during missions.
The Future Force will be benefit from the substantial R&D efforts that create and reuse energy.
A more detailed article about some of the Army’s 2025 energy goals can be found in the January – March 2015 edition of Army Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Magazine.