U.S. Government Investment in Transportable Power Paying Off

by: Matthew Potter
September 7, 2010

Category: Business Line, Companies, Contract Awards, DARPA, Department of Defense, development program, Events, logistics, production program, Proposal, S&T, Services, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy | RSS 2.0

The U.S. military and other agencies are deployed all across the world conducting combat, support and relief operations. One of their biggest demands is for electricity. This is used to power weapons systems, radios, data links as well as housekeeping services such as air conditioning. The U.S. soldier relies on batteries to power his personnel equipment such as Night Vision Goggles (NVG) and portable electronics. Much of this electricity including recharging batteries comes from generators powered by gasoline that are either stand alone or built into vehicles. The U.S. government has over the last decade looked at coming up with systems that don’t need to burn petroleum.

This is for a variety of reasons but mainly because oil is expensive to transport to places like Afghanistan. There are concerns too that eventually there won’t be any oil or it will become even more expensive.

The Defense Advanced Research Product Agency (DARPA) has invested money in different ideas. One of these is for small, flexible photovoltaic systems. Two years ago DARPA sponsored a contest for teams to come up with wearable power systems. These would replace batteries and be equipment that could be carried by the individual soldier and power his equipment.

Various parts of the government including DARPA, the Navy and Air Force have invested in biofuel research. In April the Navy flew a F/A-18 fighter using a mix of biofuel and standard jet fuel. The aircraft was able to fly at supersonic speeds with the use of its afterburner.

Another approach is being taken by SkyBuilt. This small defense contractor located in Arlington, VA builds portable, transportable systems that provide extended power generation through a combination of wind, solar and batteries. There design fits into a standard shipping container or can be built into a truck that may be set up quickly and left to run for several months at a time. They received investment capital from the U.S. government and now deliver systems for use by the military and other government agencies.

Even if there are not the predicted shortages of oil in the future development of low cost energy alternatives is a wise decision by the government. There are many instances where these systems may provide power and support. This kind of investment will also increase the supply of petroleum based products by mitigating the need for their use. Biofuel research achieves the same goal. As with many technologies there is a good chance of rapid improvement in size, cost and capability over the next decade now that a great deal of the basic research has been completed.

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