Getting greener from the U.S. military by Doug Mohney
While you don't usually associate the U.S. military with traditional tree-hugging activity, the services have embraced renewable energy sources and lowering fuel and power consumption for a number of reasons. Some advances hold the promise of wider civilian usage.
Fuel has always been a concern of the U.S. armed forces to move vehicles, but as wartronics -- forgive me for coining a phrase here -- have grown as personal computers, servers, laptops, tablets and cell phone-like devices have appeared on the battlefield to complement mil-spec GPSes, lasers, radios and night-vision goggles, so has the need for more stored and generated power. A twenty-first century infantryman needs batteries for his wartronics as well as a way to recharge them -- plus his personal electronic devices. In the future, more power will be needed to drive radars capable of "frying" incoming unmanned flying vehicles and solid state lasers to shoot down incoming projectiles.
But to generate power, you need fuel. And liquid fuel gets expensive to move the farther you move it, requiring fuel to move the fuel, vehicles to transport it and soldiers to guard it. The price tag adds up the farther you go and more devices you have to power. In addition, the military has long seen the writing on the wall about the price of oil going upward and not being able to get as much oil as it needs for ships and planes in case of a world crisis.
Saving power with energy-efficient servers, better batteries, renewable fuels and making energy from trash all are very attractive to the modern U.S. soldier, sailor, marine and airman. Saving power becomes less about a long-term goal of "saving the planet" and more about shorter-term goals of saving lives by reducing the need for transporting fuel to expeditionary forces and importing it to U.S. military bases.
Over the summer, the U.S. Navy put about $12 million worth of biofuels through its previous warships engines, 900,000 gallons blended with conventional diesel. At $26 a gallon compared to $3.60 for conventional fuel, the demonstration wasn't cheap. However, since the Pentagon is a huge fuel purchaser, it can provide an incubator market and anchor customer for a nascent biofuels industry.
But that's the future. One example of today's potential military-data center cross-over is Ultralife's GenSet Eliminator, a combination solar panel and battery that reduces power fuel consumption by up to 30 percent. The military likes the "silent watch" feature since it provides power without a noisy running a motor; data centers might take a look at it because it would allow them to cut diesel fuel costs, cut particulate emissions and noise pollution. It also offers high-density lithium ion rechargeable battery packs as a direct replacement for 1-5 kWh lead acid batteries in 24V or 48V applications -- no acid, no showers or ventilation.
A future battery improvement may come directly from the U.S. Army. It is working on licensing an electrolyte additive that could increase lithium battery energy density by almost one-third and has ongoing work to increase power densities.
The key to making both the military and the civilian community happy is to produce greener technology-- be it biofuels or new lithium batteries -- in quantity and affordability. As the military takes the lead in R&D through initial production, it wants to see bigger quantities and pricing to go down. As prices go down, newer tech then becomes affordable for the "rest of us" and appears in data centers and other areas that need a good greening.