By Carden Hedelt, MCSC Corporate Communications
Marines need energy for plenty of things. Gear like weapons systems and radios all need their power. The same goes for personal items, like electric razors and iPods.
In the field, a recharge means turning to a generator. For an iPod, that’s overkill.
“The reality is Marines are turning on a three-to-six kilowatt generator so they can charge their iPod,” said Justin Govar, senior engineer for Expeditionary Power Systems (EPS) at Marine Corps Systems Command (MCSC). “They’re burning fuel when they do that.”
To cut down on fuel usage and reduce the logistics footprint related to power, EPS has fielded and is working on several renewable power sources.
A system that is widely in current use is the Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy Network System, GREENS for short. A renewable, hybrid system, GREENS can take electricity from solar, vehicle and generator sources, and optimize it to make sure fuel use stays at a minimum.
The solar panels, eight in all, make up an array that can deliver 300 watts of power around-the-clock thanks to 35-pound lithium ion batteries. For shorter lengths of time, the panels can sustain up to 1,000 watts.
“It’s surprising how many things can be powered off of 300-1,000 watts,” Govar said.
The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) falls in that range. All the HIMARS systems in Afghanistan are being powered by stationary GREENS.
The return is significant.
“They found that they’re saving about 10 gallons of fuel per day per vehicle,” Govar said. “They’re not idling their vehicle 24/7, plus the generator they’re using requires maintenance every four days and was down all the time. GREENS systems have been running for six months and only one has gone down for a short period of time.”
For smaller power needs, there is an alternative solar power system called SPACES, which stands for Solar Portable Alternative Communication Energy System.
SPACES is a large flexible array of solar panels on a cloth backing that is foldable and easily storable in a pack. It comes with an adaptor kit that lets Marines plug in just about anything they could find in the field. It is able to recharge several batteries at once.
For a fire team out on patrol, SPACES shaves off pack weight by allowing Marines to switch from non-rechargeable to rechargeable batteries.
“They were saving a platoon somewhere around 900 pounds in battery weight on a 14-day mission,” Govar said. “If you think about it, that’s a lot of carried weight.”
SPACES also allows Marines to charge batteries and other items, such as an iPod, while they are at their bases.
The lesser the fuel consumption is, the better.
“There are big logistics trails we’re trying to cut down on,” Govar said. “Patrol bases can be in very remote places so just getting the fuel there is extremely dangerous.”
Both GREENS and SPACES are looking to move into a second generation of systems soon. The GREENS second generation looks to cut 50 percent of the volume and weight from the first-generation of systems in coming years.
A future system that will suit greater power needs is the Renewable Sustainable Expeditionary Power (RSEP) program, an Office of Naval Research (ONR) future naval capability.
According to Mike Gallagher, Product Manager for Expeditionary Power Systems at MCSC, RSEP seeks to create a system that can provide electricity to Marines without relying on fuel resupply alone.
“The intention is instead of refueling the generator every 24 hours, you now refuel it every 15 days,” he said. Current trailer-hitched generators of similar size run off of diesel fuel, which creates a large logistics footprint in the form of fuel delivery. ONR has enlisted the help of three industry teams – Battelle, Emcore and Raytheon – to create a hybrid system to provide electricity.
Using a combination of sunlight, heat and fuel, RSEP would continually output 3 kilowatts of power while reducing fuel needs by 40 percent. They should also be much quieter and have the potential to use biofuels.
This is still an ONR system now, but MCSC and the Marine Corps Combat Development Center have signed off to take over the program in 2016 if RSEP meets certain standards.
“If it works out…it could be a huge boon to the Marine Corps,” Gallagher said.