Army eyes waste-to-energy for base camps

Trimming the amount of energy that needs to be transported into base camps is chief goal of the U.S. military, for the simple reason that such transport is both expensive and dangerous. 

Although the situation is changing as the force size and mission evolves, last year the military said it was burning through about 50 million gallons of fuel a month in Afghanistan, and that 70 percent of its total logistics movement was fuel or water.

Energy efficiency is one obvious tool the military is using – the Army says that mature technologies like thermal insulation and energy-efficient lighting could cut use in shelter systems by 25-30 percent. Renewable energy devices, like solar and wind, can make a difference, too, especially when integrated into microgrids.

And now it looks like waste-to-energy is edging its way into the green base camp picture.

This is a bit of a long-term project – the Army figures that it’s three years away from a demonstration project, and maybe five years from having a system in the field – but there’s no question the Army is laying the ground work: This summer, it had West Point engineering cadets at its Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Massachusetts studying how to turn waste into energy at highly mobile base camps.

“The Corps of Engineers is looking at larger facilities, larger base camps, where here at Natick, we’re looking at base camps that you can pack up and relocate somewhere else,” the center’s Amy Klopotoski said in a statement. “So we’re looking at remediating waste on the base camps and then generating some energy off of that waste.”

Waste-to-energy systems aren’t themselves all that unusual; the challenge is making them work in Army scenarios. Last year, we wrote about a micro auto gasification system (MAGS) the Navy is evaluating. Developed under the ONR Sea Warfare and Weapons department’s Environmental Quality Discovery & Invention program, it’s a machine the Navy says can reduce a 50-gallon bag of waste to a half-pint jar of harmless ash.

But making that work for the Army in the type’s of scenarios Klopotoski is talking about will take some work – and it’s where the cadets, gaining exposure to the program in its early stages, could play a role.

“It’s kind of nice to get some fresh eyes on some of our projects,” Klopotoski said. “These guys are looking at how to tackle some of those technical challenges. In the end, we’re going to have to package it into a containerized type of system that’s small enough to move around. I think that’s going to be a part of the technical challenge, also.”

Pete Danko, EarthTechling