The Army has partnered with the automotive industry and others in an effort to jump-start the development of more energy-saving and high-performance vehicles.
Most of these efforts are still in the research and development stages, but “our initial analyses (for future adaptation) are very promising,” said Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment.
Hammack was referring to research and development, or R&D, efforts between the Army and Detroit in the area of improved battery and tire technologies; the use of lighter structural materials; increased engine efficiencies; and more efficient drive and braking systems.
Her comments came at a media roundtable at the 2013 Washington Auto Show in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Feb. 5. Hammack also visited industry innovators and exhibits at the auto show, which featured “green car” technology from a number of U.S. and foreign auto makers.
While much of the technology is at least three to five years away from being rolled out to the field, Hammack said the Army already has an excellent vehicle track record.
The Army, one of largest users of ground vehicles in the world, is now using fuel-efficient technologies “as never before,” she said.
The Army already has achieved a 28.5 percent reduction in petroleum consumption of all its vehicles in just the last two years and is driving for a 30 percent total reduction within the next two years, she added.
This was made possible by investing in hybrid, electric and natural gas vehicles and also by reducing the number and size of vehicles to align them with mission requirements, she said.
For example, “in the past, we used (less fuel-efficient) Humvees to carry Soldiers to training ranges,” Hammack said. “Now we’re using light vehicles with better fuel efficiencies” to do the same job.
The Army’s collaborative efforts with Detroit come together at the Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, or TARDEC, in Warren, Mich. TARDEC’s laboratories are run by scientists and engineers who research everything from fuel and lubricants to propulsion systems and robotics. Besides vehicles, research also extends to unmanned battlefield robots.
One example of the work being done, she said, are tests in Hawaii to determine the feasibility of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, powered by solar/water instead of petroleum. Hawaii currently imports all its fuel, she added, making the testing locale particularly relevant.
Besides the auto industry, the Army is reaching out to utility companies as well. Plans are being made to test electric vehicles, which when not in use can return power to the grid, she said, adding that it’s possible the savings could even add up to the lease cost for the vehicle.
The Army is also partnering with the Department of Energy, or DOE, which has done a lot of research into applications that would be relevant for vehicles.
“By increasing our cooperation on advanced vehicle technologies, the DOE and the U.S. Army can accelerate the development and deployment of cutting-edge technologies that will decrease our dependence on oil,” said Steven Chu, the outgoing Secretary of Energy, in remarks last year. “Through this alliance, we can strengthen our military, our national security and our economy. Our work together can help create a clean energy economy that will create jobs and make America more competitive.”
Besides collaborating with Detroit and others, the Army is listening to ideas from its Soldiers in the field. “Soldiers often have great ideas,” Hammack said. “I’d encourage them to bring their ideas to us.”
The Army is using mobile laboratories as incubators for ideas, she said. These labs are brought to different installations and even to remote outposts in Afghanistan, where Soldiers are encouraged to brainstorm and develop solutions that in turn are taken to scientists and researchers.
Ironically, all of the ideas for saving money and making vehicle systems perform better could be placed on hold if sequestration kicks in, she said, adding that programs are already being affected by the ongoing continuing resolution which “restricts our abilities to implement some of our programs.”
On a positive note, Hammack said he Army is planning to conduct a Green Warrior Convoy, which will travel from TARDEC in Michigan to Washington, D.C., with planned stops at colleges, schools, communities and military installations to showcase the Army’s science and technology opportunities and development.