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US Marines ExFOB 2014 Seeks Next-Gen Energy Harvesting Systems

We’ve written before about the US Marines Experimental Forward Operating Base (ExFOB) project, and with a mid-May demonstration event for energy harvesting systems ahead this year, now is a good time to check in and see what they’re up to. The ExFOB Request for Information is available online and that gives you a pretty detailed rundown of the kinds of technology they’re seeking.

By the way, if you happen to own a clean tech company and you’d like to respond to the exFOB RFI, the deadline is midnight on February 21.

military clean energy

Military clean energy at work (photo by Sgt. Christopher Q. Stone).

Experimental Forward Operating Base

ExFOB is an interdisciplinary program created in 2009 specifically aimed at reducing battlefield energy and water consumption.

If that word “battlefield” sticks out like a sore thumb, it should. Despite all the crabbing about solar energy from some quarters, the fact is that the flexibility and nimbleness of portable solar power dovetails with the force mobility of the Marines, which has become increasingly cramped by reliance on diesel generators and a heavy burden of batteries (see our article on the solar company Cogenra for more).

The May demonstration will take place at Twenty-Nine Palms in California (that’s recently corrected from the location in the original RFI, which cited Camp Pendleton).

It’s the latest in an annual series. The demonstrations last a week, during which time data on system performance is collected. Marine observers also provide a qualitative analysis based on their observations.

That results in the selection of a group of the most promising technologies, which go to a lab for a controlled evaluation. The ones that get past that marker are thrown over to the Marines for field testing.

If that all seems a bit rushed, that’s the point. Every day that unnecessary diesel fuel and water convoys roll is another day of unnecessary risk to drivers and convoy guards, and avoidable costs (for more on that check out the documentary The Burden).

Energy Harvesting Systems For US Marines

Several years ago we took note of a US Marines project involving portable solar panels that fold up, suitcase style. Well, it looks like things have gone far beyond that. The RFI specifically notes that the Marines are not looking at ground-mounted systems since they already have the Improved Solar Panel program up and running.

For the category of patrol systems, that leaves devices that can be worn or backpacked, and here’s the rundown on that:

Scenario:  Harvest energy from a ~160 lb. Marine carrying a 50-90 lb. pack moving at a rate of 2-6 miles per hour.

The harvested energy should flow back into a standard BB2590 battery (or similar).

Examples of Harvesting Technologies:
Kinetic energy (knee brace, backpack)
Energy from body heat
Nano technology in fabric
Vibration technology
Wearable solar

Efforts to replace conventional diesel generators with multi-fuel microgrids (including wind and solar) are already under way, so in this RFI the Marines are also looking past that to the next step, which is to harvest waste heat from generators.

In this category, the Marines are interested in two types of harvesting. One would enable the conversion of waste heat to usable energy and/or water reclamation, and the other would harvest waste heat directly for climate control.

What we’re really intrigued by is a third category of technology, which is described thusly:

While the ExFOB team is primarily interested in technologies that harvest energy from Marines on the move and from standard issue generators, we are open to other energy harvesting technologies for specific applications.

Endless possibilities, right?

So Far, So Good for Military Clean Energy

Check out the ExFOB website for more details about the program. So far, ExFOB has reviewed more than 280 technologies and evaluated more than 75 systems, resulting in the deployment of 11 different technologies in Afghanistan.


One early highlight occurred in 2010, when the program was barely a year old:

In July 2010, India Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment trained on and deployed to Afghanistan with a suite of renewable energy technologies demonstrated at the first ExFOB. With these systems in place, India 3/5 operated two patrol bases entirely on renewable energy, reduced fuel consumption at a third base by 90%, and executed a three-week foot patrol without battery resupply, lightening their carried load by 700 pounds.

ExFOB is just one relatively small example of energy innovation by the US military, which we’ve covered endlessly on CleanTechnica and our sister sites PlanetSave and Gas2.org, with the aim of increasing force effectiveness, reducing costs, and decreasing risk in response to the environmental and geopolitical impacts of global warming.

Speaking of global warming related risk, the investment community has been galvanized into seeking more clean tech opportunities as a portfolio risk management strategy, as demonstrated by this week’s filled-to-capacity Climate Risk Summit at the U.N.

With all that activity in mind, old school fossil fuel projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline are looking less like a productive addition to the US energy infrastructure and more like a ball and chain.

So, in anticipation of the completion of a State Department review of the pipeline, we’re going to repeat our original assessment from a couple of years ago. Stick a fork in it…

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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