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News | April 21, 2011

Renewable energy in Afghanistan

By Andrew Revelos , Marine Corps Base Quantico


Energy-efficient LED lights sit atop the Ground Renewable Energy Networks system at a display of renewable technology at Quantico’s Gray Research Center on April 6.  Photo by Andrew Revelos.

MCB QUANTICO, Va. (April 19, 2011) — A project officer assigned to the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab discussed some of the latest Expeditionary Forward Operating Base developments at an April 6 display of renewable technology at the Quantico’s Gray Research Center.

Much has been written about the Marine Corps’ attempts to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels through its ExFOB experiments, and though final analysis of its Afghanistan phase is due in May, reports already suggest renewable gear has a place in expeditionary operation, according to Capt. Adorjan Ferenczy, project officer at MCWL.

Beginning in 2009, the Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy Office began coordinating with several Quantico-based commands, under the umbrella of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, to see how the Corps could reduce its fuel and water needs in a combat environment.

Several experiments culminated in the issuing of commercially available, renewable technology to Company I, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment for use in Afghanistan. The feedback from those Marines, though preliminary, not only hints that more green gear may be sent down range, but that at least one of the original six ExFOB technologies has already exceeded expectations.

“If there’s one system… that stood out the most, it’s SPACES [the Solar Portable Alternative Communications Energy Systems],” said Ferenczy. “What the Marines from 3/5 were saying is that it reduced the number of batteries they had to take on patrols.”

“SPACES is a flexible solar blanket intended to recharge batteries,” according to Ferenczy, the system proved rugged enough to go along with Company I Marines on patrol, reducing the weight of their gear humped outside the wire.

“It did lighten the Marines load as far as foot mobile patrols go,” said Ferenczy. “Anytime you can say that, it’s a good thing.”

Ferenczy noted that new uses for SPACES and other renewable gear were discovered by Company I Marines.

“How they hung the systems, how they placed and used them, went beyond what we trained them to do,” said Ferenczy. “It was pretty impressive. We always like to give Marines… options. To see them employ the [ExFob equipment] in different way to meet their needs, that helps us back here where we develop the gear and try to push it forward to other units saying ‘hey, this is one more way to use the gear.’”

Ferenczy also had qualified praise for the Ground Renewable Energy Networks system, a solar panel intended to reduce Marines dependence on gas-powered generators in isolated forward operating bases.

“The GREENS equipment was beneficial as well, but there is still development that needs to be done with [photovoltaic] technology in order to compete with the power a small generator would provide,” said Ferenczy. “In an austere environment, where logistical support is difficult and power requirements are low, the GREENS system is a great thing to have because it’s low maintenance and you don’t have to refuel it like a generator.”

Tactical and quality of life advantages for both solar technologies in terms of noise reduction were also evident.

“Any electricity-providing equipment is usually kept close to the [combat operations center], in the shade and that can produce a lot of noise [in the COC],” said Ferenczy, who compared his own experience with the ExFOB feedback. “[With this equipment], you could walk into a tent and be able to talk without raising your voice.”

One of the most important questions of the ExFOB experiment was whether or not the renewable systems would be reliable. In this regard, the feedback from the operating forces thus far suggests solar systems offer reliability exceeding that of gas-powered generators.

“[The renewable technology] seemed to be a little more reliable than a generator system working in 100 degree-plus temperatures,” said Ferenczy. “It’s very hard to damage this type of gear.”

More ExFOB experiments are already in the works, including looking at ways reduce the need to idle tactical vehicles in order to charge batteries and power equipment. Ferenczy cautioned, however, that the pace of the experiments will continue to be determined by the Marines on the ground.

“The mission is already stressful enough,” said Ferenczy. “[With] any technology we give to a warfighter, we want to make sure he’s focused on his mission and not additional tasks. I think [ExFOB] meets that need.”