In a shot across the bow of oil and gas stakeholders, the National Academy of Sciences calculates that the Army could shave 30% off its use of diesel and other hydrocarbon fuels right here and now, partly with the help of electric vehicles and other clean tech. As it so happens, a Department of Defense contractor called NanoGraf has just introduced a new silicon formula for EV batteries that could put the Army on track to beat the 30% mark sooner rather than later.
US Army Could Save 30% On Hydrocarbon Fuel
To be clear, NAS is not anticipating the all-electric Army of the future any time soon. The report covers a field use case in which the weight and size of EV batteries, and the availability of electricity, are factors that put the current generation of electric vehicles at a disadvantage compared to plain old gasmobiles.
Earlier this week, NAS issued a press release for the new report which hammered home that point, beginning with the headline: “U.S. Army Should Continue to Use Hydrocarbon Fuel as Primary Source of Energy on the Battlefield, Says New Report.”
The headline suggests that the new report is only about hydrocarbon fuels, and it is not. It is also about reducing the use of fossil energy, which is hardly something for oil and gas stakeholders to cheer about. The new report comes under a somewhat less takesy-sidesy title, “Powering the U.S. Army of the Future.”
The NAS press release finally acknowledges that down around the sixth paragraph — after picking apart all the reasons why EV batteries are not suitable for battlefield use.
“However, the report notes, hybrid technologies using ICEs, generators, power electronics, and battery storage are an encouraging option, on which the Army has already initiated work,” the press release grudgingly admits. “In total, actions recommended in the report would result in a projected 32% reduction in the fuel needed to be transported to the field and are based largely on technology that is available today.”
Way to bury the lede, guys. Sheesh!
Meanwhile, if you caught that thing about “transported to the field,” that’s the key to the whole study. At the Army’s request, NAS took a close look at the prospects for fuel consumption in a specific use case — namely, an armored brigade combat team — into 2035.
That explains why the report comes down on the need for continued use of hydrocarbons over the near term. Armored combat brigades are known for heavy fuel usage, so the NAS study represents a worst-case scenario for electric vehicles and renewable energy.
New EV Batteries For The Department of Defense
As for the all-electric Army of the future, the US Department of Defense is already looking past 2035. Among its many (many) clean tech R&D projects, DOD is backing the new battery formula developed by NanoGraf.
Earlier this week NanoGraf let word slip that it reached a record-setting “breakthrough in energy density of silicon anode cells enable longer-lasting, lighter weight, and shortened charge cycles for consumer electronics, electric vehicles, military equipment and more.”
Sure, we hear that all the time, but our ears prick up when both silicon and DOD appear together in the same press release along with other NanoGraf affiliates, including Northwestern University and the Energy Department’s Argonne National Laboratory, which has a whole silicon battery consortium under its wing.
As for why silicon, the Energy Department is a huge fan of silicon for next-generation batteries. It can improve battery performance, but there are some technology kinks to be worked out.
“In your electric car’s battery, swapping an electrode with one made of silicon could let the battery store 10 times more energy. Why isn’t silicon used? It falls apart,” the Energy Department mused last December.
NanoGraf seems to have solved the problem, with the help of a $1.65 million grant from the Department of Defense.
“Energy density has plateaued, only increasing eight percent or so over the last decade. We just achieved a 10 percent increase in a little under a year. This is over a decade’s worth of innovation in one technology,” explains NanoGraf President, Dr. Kurt (Chip) Breitenkamp.
Yes, Silicon For Next-Gen EV Batteries
EV batteries have improved significantly over the past 10 years, but they hit a speed bump with that electrode thing. Typical EV batteries rely on graphite, and that can only take you so far along the road to zero emission mobility.
The silicon option requires doping, which refers to tweaking and tailoring a material to tease out desirable properties. Doping has been around for a while, and today’s nanoscale technology is providing R&D teams with new opportunities for precise customization.
“NanoGraf’s technology utilizes a proprietary doped silicon alloy material architecture to achieve category-leading performance and solutions to long-standing Si anode technical hurdles. The proprietary combination of silicon-based alloys and a protective inorganic and organic coating helps stabilize the active material during charge and discharge,” the company explains.
“Whereas current graphite-based anodes offer a capacity of 372 mAh/g, NanoGraf material can be customized to achieve capacities between 550 mAh/g and over 1400 mAh/g, delivering higher cell level energy density and best-in-class rate capabilities for high discharge applications,” NanoGraf adds.
NanoGraf also points out that the new battery is fabricated with a low cost, high throughput “wet chemistry” process, giving it a potential edge on manufacturing costs.
The All-Electric Army Of The Future
The NanoGraf battery isn’t just for electric vehicles. The Army is especially interested in smaller, lighter portable batteries to power the ever-increasing load of electronic gear carried by the soldier of today.
DOD is also keen on the idea of scavenging on site energy for field use, by way of fostering the more agile fighting force of the future. As reported by NAS, the idea of recharging whole fleets of EV batteries may be out of reach for now, but the Army has been eyeballing portable and transportable solar panels for energy on-the-go, along with new energy storage technology and flexible self-forming microgrids that reduce the use of conventional fuel.
Meanwhile, the Army and other branches of the Armed Services have been dipping a toe into the electric vehicle waters, and the new NanoGraf battery appears to have that covered, too.
In addition to the DOD grant, an industry group called the U.S. Council for Automotive Research chipped $7.5 million into the NanoGraf R&D pot back in 2019. That puts Ford, GM, and that new thing called FCA (aka Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Ram and FIAT) behind the new battery.
The Road To A 30% Cut In Fuel Use
While waiting for the new NanoGraph battery to hit the shelves, the Army has not been letting the clean tech grass grow under its feet, and fuel efficiency is one area of focus.
In one recent development on that score, last fall the Army unveiled a 35,ooo pound diesel-electric truck called HEMTT A3 (Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck plus generator).
The truck doubles as a microgrid enabler, and the Army anticipates that it will improve fuel efficiency by 20% while also providing up to 100 kilowatts of transportable, exportable power to the field.
“The diesel-electric HEMTT A3 uses a diesel engine to power a generator, which in turn sends electrical power through cables to small motors on each of the axles. An ultracapacitor is used to store energy,” explains the Army.
“We have an A/C induction generator that takes the place of an automatic transmission on a conventional truck,” adds Stephen Nimmer of Oshkosh Defense. “We have power cables that run from the generator to inverters or drives that control the electric motors.”
The truck is currently undergoing a battery of tests, so to speak, to determine its resiliency under extreme temperatures among other conditions.
Add biodiesel to the mix, and it looks like oil and gas stakeholders will need to reconsider their plans for celebrating the new NAS report.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Photo: Diesel-electric hybrid truck courtesy of Oshkosh Defense.