Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Wearable Power Prize Competition is On !!!

This is about new, small and survivable storage technology. Before I say more about this competition, I'll begin with my favorite Q&A from the  FAQ sheet:
Question: Are human-powered systems eligible?

Answer: No, the intent of this prize program is to supply power to the warfighter and not extract power from the warfighter.
Pretty funny for technical FAQ, don't you think? The final competition and live tests are happening right now.  Here are the details:
  • Sponsor: Office of the Director, Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E)
  • Total # of teams competing: 48 finalists from 15 countries
  • Venue: Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, CA
  • Prize money at stake: $1 million for first prize (plus smaller 2nd and 3rd place awards)
  • Objective: To address the Defense Department’s need for long-endurance, lighter weight power systems for dismounted warfighters.
  • Tech challenge: DoD launched the Wearable Power Prize in July, 2007 offering a one million dollar first prize for a wearable system that provides 20 Watts (avg) of electrical power for 96 hours, weighs less than 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds), attaches to a standard military vest, and operates autonomously.
  • Sep 28 - Competition Begins: Competitors power-up their systems for a 92-hour power-production bench test in outdoor conditions
  • Oct 4 - Final Competition: Teams surviving the bench test go head-to-head in the final 4-hour field test competition. Team members wear their prototypes as they power surrogate equipment in the final trial of the competition.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Energy Decision Makers' Dilemma: How Much Will Oil Cost Next Year? In 5 Years? In 20?

Let's say you run DOD. Today you observed that when congress voted down the Wall Street bail-out plan the stock market fell 700 points. And as it fell, it took the price of oil with it, over $10, so a barrel of oil is once again priced at less than $100. Feels almost like a bargain. When economists forecast a slowing economy, they also forecast lower demand for energy. But given all the efforts you've set in motion recently to add energy efficiency and conservation to policy, do you consider today's events to be good news or bad news for the department?

If you'd read Simmons' 2005 book "Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy," your take on oil price fluctuations is informed by a more powerful basic trend. Simmons spent years studying peak oil scenarios, paying particular attention to what the Saudi's said they have in reserve, versus what the hard data shows. And he's quite convinced there's a heck of a lot less in Saudi oil fields than the Saudis (and the big oil execs) are claiming is there. A question haunting you today, then, even as oil settles below $100 per barrel, might be: "am I doing enough to make sure DOD can fulfill its missions when oil is $200 per barrel ... and maybe much more than $200?" See this.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

DARPA CTL BAA Lottery Open - Get Your Winning Entries In !!!

Actually, it's going to take a lot more than luck to win this one. So far, the very best coal to fuel approaches have proven far too expensive and far too dirty from a CO2 perspective to inspire DOD to go into large scale production. But the prize is great, as the BAA description notes, the US has  proven coal reserves enough to provide liquid fuel to power DOD for thousands of years.

DARPA's Stratetic Technology Office (STO) has a new BAA opportunity on the street called "Coal To Liquids" with an ID number of DARPA-BAA-08-58. Posted 4 Sep 08, the dates competitors need to keep in mind are:
  • Proposal Abstracts are due by 4:00 pm ET, September 24, 2008 (just elapsed, though I'm sure some leniency will be shown to truly killer, if somewhat tardy, abstracts)
  • Initial Full Proposals are due by 4:00 pm ET, November 12, 2008
  • BAA closing date is one year from date of publication
All you've got to do, besides delivering timely proposal documents with all the i's dotted and t's crossed, is describe a new process DOD can use to produce JP-8 grade jet fuel at costs much lower than today's approaches, and that don't produce nearly as much CO2. If you have an idea for how to do this, don't be shy, the clock is ticking in more ways than one.

Friday, September 26, 2008

More on Fuel Efficient AF Engine Development

Until this puppy evolves into a much bigger dog capable of carrying 10-20 tons of weapons 2,500+ miles, we're going to need fuel to keep our larger flying machines in the air. For energy and financial security, it means figuring out how to use less fuel and/or how to use a different fuel.

Let's table the Coal-to-Fuel discussion for minute, as it remains unclear how much overall utility the early attempts at this approach provide at present. Since the US has huge coal reserves, I agree CTF is a win for energy security, though we'd have to build a heck of a lot of news plants to scale up to current AF demand levels. However, a true home run tech advance gets you energy security, and performs either neutral or better on two other important axes: financial and environmental.

Efficiency technologies, such as the geared turbofan engines discussed here previously, are clearly a move in the right direction on all three fronts. And here's another new engine tech approach: designing engines that can switch their personalities in flight from drag-racers to econocars and back again. That's the goal of the ADVENT program, which stands for Adaptive, Versatile Engine Technology, run by AFRL at Wright Patterson AFB, with help from Rolls Royce, Lockheed, Northrop Grumman and GE. Note: most of the news on this program is over one year old, so I've got calls into the Wright Pat program office for a refresh. Will post update as soon as I hear back.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Energy Management Spotlight: Army HI-Power for Tactical Power Grids

There's nothing in this program I don't like.  Well, with the possible exception that moving from multiple isolated "power islands" to centralized grids in tactical environments makes it easier to accidently knock out power to all users.  Or easier for hostiles to take out the whole site with one well placed shot. Well, I'm sure Army RDECOM and the contractors will figure it out. Otherwise, the type of thinking and investigation that's going on at the HI-Power program is a case study in how to achieve maximum efficiencies through process and system optimization. (HI = hybrid intelligent.)

Here's how the recent DDR&E Energy Task Force paper describes the goals for HI-Power:
Solutions currently being pursued include the development of active distribution networks and intelligent / automated hybrid power systems. Power management and distribution techniques will enable maximum power utilization with a high degree of efficiency for use with various mobile and portable applications in the 2 to 500 kilowatt range.

This power management architecture will include small and medium sized tactical versions for mobile forces and larger transportable systems appropriate for forward operating bases. Initial models estimate fuel savings of up to 40 percent, reduced maintenance and personnel requirements, and fewer power interruptions. The resulting architecture shall impose minimum impacts on transportability, deployability, and readiness levels of current and upcoming platforms.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Essential Energy Knowledge: the Strategic Petroleum Reserve

Part of focusing a lot of attention on new energy technologies and policies for DOD is making sure you understand the baseline. That is, what's in place now that informs and affects what we should do next. To that end, and for folks who've only heard it mentioned occasionally on the news, here's a quick primer on the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR).
  • Created after the OPEC oil embargo of 1973 to serve as a strategic buffer during future disruptions
  • Current SPR max capacity: 727 million barrels of oil, in underground salt domes, spread out over 4 sites in Texas and Louisiana
  • As of today (23 SEP 2008) : 704.4 million barrels. (You can get an updated tally every day here.)
  • Potential future capacity: 1 billion barrels, per direction of the Energy Policy Act of 2005
  • Drawdown rate: 4.4 million barrels per day
  • US current oil consumption: 21 million barrels per day
  • DOE's SPR Program Management office is located in New Orleans
There's much more SPR information and FAQs here directly from the DOE and here, at the ever-helpful Wikipedia.

Photo courtesy of the Department of Energy

Meet the Jetsons: 1-Man VTOL Now in Development

A Manassas, Virginia firm is creating a small plane with no pilot on-board. And no human joystick jockey in a remote SCIF either. With Air Force funding, multiple mission options for "Excalibur" are still being explored. But one of them includes serving as a shuttle for one troop: injured for evacuation, or healthy for insertion.

If adopted, the implications for fuel requirements are huge, but also highly uncertain. Would Excalibur help keep larger planes and helicopters on the ground thereby saving tons of fuel? Or would it be a supplement to (or replacement for) what we have already ... like substituting a commuter car for public transportation? What'll be the net energy impact? Inquiring folks should keep an eye on this.

Photo courtesy of Aurora Flight Sciences

Monday, September 22, 2008

FedEx Schooling for DOD

Great article here on the Cleantech Blog.

OK, there are no missiles, tanks or fighters in FedEx. But allowing for some core differences in mission, there are a heck of a lot of similarities, logistically speaking, between delivery giant FedEx and the DOD.

Both use jet fuel and gasoline at prodigious rates as part and parcel (pun alert) of getting the job done. Both are experimenting with efficiency technologies across the enterprise, including hybrid ground vehicles and process improvements like shutting down jet engines whenever possible (and only on the ground) to conserve fuel. On the facilities side you'll find a few solar and geothermal sites. Sound familiar?

I think there's a lot to be learned here, and hopefully, AF and other leaders are taking good notes.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Army Energy Scope Snapshot

Note: slide above lists recent the massive responsibilities related to running Army installations and does not include vehicles or the fuel to power them, including tanks, APCs, trucks, humvees, helicopters, planes, etc.  Consider full energy security and cost issues and its staggering. Not something a few hundred turbines and solar panels are going to put a dent in anytime soon ... but you've got to start somewhere.  Go here for current Army Energy page, and look to link on right for excellent article on "culture change" requirements by Mr. Don Juhasz from the Office of the Assistant Army Chief of Staff for Installation Management.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

WSJ Calls Out Oil Supply Yo-Yo Effect

As mentioned here previously, oil price movement in the era of Peak Oil (or geopolitical Peak Oil) works like a yo-yo, or if you prefer a bit more drama, like the kind of slip knot that gets tighter the more one struggles to break free of it ... heading higher or lower.

So while rising prices reduce demand, they also increase the incentive for the creation of more supply, and raise the bar on which kinds of projects can be considered affordable. However, the converse is that as price falls, and improves the fortunes of individuals, companies, and even the mighty US balance of payments, falling prices reduce the incentives for new development, and make nonsense out of previously sensible projects. Meaning, lower supply in the future and ... here we go again !!! Neil King of the Journal gives a good summation today here.

Simple Navy Fuel Retro Math

In 2007, not including uranium or aviation fuels, the Navy spent nearly $2B (at an average of $50/barrel) to fuel its ships and subs. It's now embarked on a low cost plan to squeeze single percentage point efficiency savings using a variety of retrofit approaches including keeping barnacles off the props, running its engines more efficiently, tuning the flow of water around the hulls, and ... changing out the light bulbs.

At $4M per year, if this program reduces fuel use just by just 1% they produce a net savings of $20M for a whopping 500% ROI. Hit double the percentage, achieve double the ROI, etc. More detail here. Of course, all this figuring uses $50 per barrel (keeps it simple). In reality, avg price per year has been:

2002 - $26.1, 2003 - $31.2, 2004 - $41.7, 2005 - $56.6, 2006 - $66.1, 2007 - $72.2 (source: Guiness Atkinson Energy Brief, Sep 2008)

It's $95 today and falling ... who can say where it will be in a year? But most experts predict a price range of $80-100 in the near term. I'd say that's plenty high to keep rewarding the Navy handsomely for its retrofit actions.

Photo courtesy of Tina McEvoy @ Flickr

Sunday, September 14, 2008

New DARPA Funding Fuels Better Coal-to-Fuel

Coal-to-Fuel (CTF) sounds great, because we have lots of coal and need lots of jet fuel to keep our jets in the air.  We'd love it if we could make more fuel ourselves, and have to buy fewer barrels of oil from less-than-friendly sellers. Trouble is, according to DARPA, current CTF processes are: 
"extremely expensive to implement, consume large amounts of water and produce unacceptable amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and other pollutants."
Now DARPA is putting up some money with the belief that there must be a better way. My guess is, 60 years later, with supercomputers, scanning electron microscopes and a slew of other breakthroughs in pocket, some innovators will soon do much, much better. Stay tuned.

F-15E over Afghanistan photo courtesy of: USAF

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Mandatory for DOD Energy Practicioners: Global Current Events

Thanks to Peak Oil and the jump global demand and the advent of the Russian-Chinese-Indian "strategic triangle," the price of oil and other energy resources is plenty volatile these days.  To mitigate the volatility somewhat, senior leaders and everyday managers need to arm themselves with as much relevent current energy affairs knowledge as possible. For those not already paying attention to the recent mini-war between Russia and Georgia, Business Week has a nice, brief primer on what Russia's been up to in the Caspian region, the effects of which ripple around the world to reach to us and our allies.  

If an until we achieve 100% independence from the rest of the world, the US has a huge strategic interest in what's going on in every oil rich region of the world.  For more info on the long history of US geopolitics and oil, Daniel Yergin's The Prize is essential reading.

Friday, September 12, 2008

As Oil Prices Fall ... No Sleeping This Time

The price of oil goes up and down (see previous post on oil price yo-yo), we've seen it all before. Now, with a monster storm named Ike barreling its way through the Gulf of Mexico threatening a significant percentage of US refining capacity, oil's current downward trends are hardly affected by the risk.

Yet as this article points out, this would be a particularly bad time to get complacent on energy security. Many humans seem to prefer reactive vs. proactive thinking. Me, I always prefer making tough decisions when I'm not in crisis mode, and oil dropping back to and through $100, from a late 2008 point of view, seems to be a gift. An unexpected bit of breathing room. Highly recommend DOD not waste it. Peak oil means we'll be back to $150 oil and beyond before we know it.

Peak Oil Chart of EIA

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

DOD Synth Fuel Brain Teaser

In the recent post "Synthetic Says What?" Robert Bateman does a good job of succinctly outlining the sticky wicket of the synth fuel approach to fueling DOD.

If you don't put any credence in man's impact on climate change, then beyond questions of process efficiency, there's nothing thorny about the pursuit and production of synth fuels. But if you think (or suspect) human activity-based CO2 is a factor, then it's a classic trade-off of values:
  1. One one hand, synth fuels help get our military off of foreign oil, which everyone thinks is a great thing (except maybe foreigners with oil)
  2. On the other hand, if synth fuel production produces boat loads of green house gases (and so far, it does), and if accelerated climate change leads to increased global conflict (as he seems pretty sure it does), then we might creating as many problems for our soldiers and airman as we solve.
Anyway, it's worth considering both sides. I will seek to get the official and un-official USAF positions on this in the near future.  In the meantime, look for a post on a company I just met yesterday at MIT, LS9, that has an entirely different approach to creating petroleum.

New Air Force Tanker Tanked

Not long ago an Air Force general stood before me on a conference stage and said something that blew my mind: "the mother of the last KC-135 pilot hasn't been born yet."  And that was before the award to Northrop/BAE, the protest of Boeing, the alleged recompete run by DOD, and today's termination of the procurement on the grounds that there isn't enough time left to get it done before the administration turns over.  Maybe today the same statement holds true except substitute "grandmother" for "mother".  

What a total clusterfxck, for the pilots, for maintenance crews, and for the AF logistics and fuel budgets. Only positive thing I can think of is that maybe the so-called Dreamliner 787, with improved, energy-saving aerodynamics and engines,  can now become the base plane from which the future tanker is derived.  3-times delayed, it has some con's to go with its pro's, as described here.

In the meantime (and it may be a long meantime), there are a few lean fueling efficiency things the Air Force can do to improve fuel utilization on its current yet paleolithic fleet of 500 or so tankers.

US Air Force photo courtesy of MSgt Marvin Krause

Monday, September 8, 2008

Army Working on Hybrid Humvees

Picture above is an XM1124 Hybrid-Electric Humvee on an M1113 Humvee chassis powered by a diesel-series hybrid featuring an all-electric drive train. The Army's been working on again/off again on getting better mileage out of its tactical vehicles. Do a search and you'll see it has terminated as many efforts as it's started. Well, that's research and engineering for you. The performance requirements for a Humvee are a bit different than for a Prius. Not more stringent, necessarily, but definitely different.  Think: survivability.  Here you'll find a smart video on Engineering TV explaining how the hybrid power sytems work on this beast. Two details jumped out from this video for me:
  • It can do 6 miles silent patrol mode before the engine has to kick in
  • 15 Kw generator provides silent power for sensors/comm gear
Acronym translation for the org that's working on this - RDECOM/TARDEC: 
  • RDECOM = Research, Development and Engineering Command
  • TARDEC = Tank, Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center
TARDEC has a conference coming up shortly on tactical hybrids and other approaches to squeezing more miles out a gallon of fuel. You could say their job is to turn GPM vehicles into MPG vehicles.  Keep an eye on here for info on the Fuel Efficient Ground Vehicle Demonstrator and the upcoming industry day on 30 Sep 08 in Michigan.

Photo Courtesy of Elizabeth Carnegie @ Flickr

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Army Testing Tilt-Rotor Tech

The oft-cited Defense Science Board (DSB) report (see sidebar) says one of its top 3 game changing energy technologies is the replacement of massively energy inefficient helicopters with tilt-rotor craft like the V-22 Osprey. (Note: an earlier post covers one of the other two, the Blended Wing Body aircraft design.)

The DefenseTech blog recently commented on the Army's decision to begin training with the V-22. While the author cites the undeniable tactical advantages: twice the speed and range of helicopters, the DSB and me are also excited about the huge fuel savings the V-22 brings. This is great stuff ... check it out here.

DOD Photo courtesy of Jim Gordon @ Flickr

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Gearing Up for Jet Fuel Savings

As noted previously, the Air Force is proving its planes will fly on a half JP-8/half synth fuel blend. This is good news because the synthetic fuel half is derived from non-oil sources, which also means less foreign oil required to keep USAF jets in the air. The bad news is it appears it takes a hell of a lot of energy to make that synth fuel out its various sources, including natural gas, and especially coal.

As Dr. Sohbet Karbuz explains repeatedly on his energy blog, the primary key for DOD is not in switching fuels, but rather, in reducing the amount of fuel that's needed.

Enter the Pratt & Whitney PW8000 turbofan engine. Long in development, its novel use of gears allows it to use 10% less fuel and it brings other costs savings as well. I'm not saying the Air Force's approach is bad. In fact, in an energy security scenario where the US is cut off from its foreign suppliers, it's essential prep work. But there's no debating the merits of more efficient planes (like the 787) and more efficient engines. We've got to keep pushing the efficiency (and conservation) buttons because synth fuels alone are energy intensive to make, and dollar intensive to buy.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Marines Know the Link Between Energy and Mission

Journalist and author Tom Friedman turns his sights on energy in his upcoming book, and Wired Magazine has a short intro piece on it. I particularly like this anecdote, featuring:
a Marine Corps general in Iraq who requested solar panels to power his bases. Asked why, he explained that he wanted to win his region by "out-greening al Qaeda." Instead of trucking in gas from Kuwait at $20 a gallon — money that fuels oppressive petro-dictatorships — in convoys that are vulnerable to roadside bombs, why not beat the insurgents by taking away their targets and their funding?
Reminded me of another USMC general,  Gen James T. Mattis, cited in the Defense Science Board's energy report released earlier this year, as saying: 
"Unleash us from the tether of fuel"
While the Air Force is often seen as out in front for DOD on several new energy initiatives, clearly they have no monopoly on good ideas or on passion for improving current conditions. The Marines, by far the most mobile ground force, care big time about the effects of fuel on their troops and their operations.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Shipping Savings

While the Navy tries its best to design, fund and procure ships to modernize the fleet, the high costs of fuel are undercutting its efforts. Here are two developments that, while doing little to enhance lethality or maneuverability, may help it substantially reduce costs during peacetime operations.

First comes Japanese work on adding solar generation to a 60K ton cargo ship which is estimated to reduce diesel consumption by 6%. Then there's a new wind energy solution that's far afield from T Boone's Texas turbine dreams. A really big kite mounted on a container ship just saved the owners 20% of their fuel costs. Individually we're talking many millions of dollars of savings per year. Together, wind and solar might save enough energy to allow for the purchase of a few new ships that otherwise would not have been attainable.

On a lighter note, I liked this comment from a reader on the site covering the kite technology breakthrough:
Oh, my! Next thing you know they'll install really tall poles on the ships with these crossbeam things and big sheets of canvas ... I know: Let's call them "sails"!!!
Photo courtesy of Beluga SkySails

Monday, September 1, 2008

Follow-up on Grid Challenges

Recent posts on the somewhat sorry state of the US power grid made this article, on the how renewables implementations will be limited by the current grid, stand out when I saw it last week.

According to the NY Times' Matthew Wald:
The grid today, according to experts, is a system conceived 100 years ago to let utilities prop each other up, reducing blackouts and sharing power in small regions. It resembles a network of streets, avenues and country roads.
Wald then cites of FERC who says, "We need an interstate transmission superhighway system.” Only problem is that you only go interstate when legislators in DC make a coordinated decision, and that's not likely to happen anytime soon. Until now, they've left power transmission issues to the states and it doesn't seem like that's about to change.

As a reader of the Powrtalk blog recently pointed out, we don't need a national super grid to achieve big gains - but we do need to connect the power generation centers to the nearest big cities. And DOD could and should get more boisterous here, by demanding and helping finance direct renewables transmission connects to its bigger bases. Nellis (photovoltaics) and China Lake (geothermal) have bypassed grid woes by building their power on the bases themselves. But for DOD installastions not ready or able to build their own large renewable generators yet, solid connections to renewable power might be the next best thing*.

* Note: I'm sure I'm missing something here. How does a base take advantage of intermittent renewable power when it's available but retain the ability to switch over when it needs to draw from traditional sources? And how does it do this without depending on the local utility provider or providers?