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CHIPS Articles: New Energy Sources Fuel Interest from Secretary of the Navy

New Energy Sources Fuel Interest from Secretary of the Navy
By Katherine H. Crawford, Office of Naval Research - January 10, 2012
ARLINGTON, Va.—Underscoring the importance of alternative energy for the military, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus visited Marine Corps Base Hawaii on Dec. 7 to learn about possible Department of the Navy-wide applications for Office of Naval Research (ONR)-funded fuel cell vehicles (FCV) and high-efficiency trash disposal technology.

Mabus, who also attended events marking the 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, was updated on progress with General Motors Equinox FCVs sponsored by ONR, five of which are located in Hawaii. The vehicles are being tested for possible use at DON installations, and fuel cell technology is being considered as a potential power source for unmanned undersea vehicles (UUV), auxiliary power units, pier-side generators and other applications.

"To meet the secretary's energy goals, we need alternative, clean and reliable energy sources," said Dr. Richard Carlin, director of ONR's Sea Warfare and Weapons Department, which has a focus area on alternative fuels. "Fuel cells provide a means to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels by using sustainable alternative fuels and by increasing energy efficiency. They also provide advantages to tactical platforms, including ships and unmanned vehicles, by increasing platform ranges and reducing detectable heat and acoustic signatures."

The FCV program at Marine Corps Base Hawaii has increased the percentage of "green" vehicles at the base to 30. It is anticipated that by the end of 2012, more than 50 percent of the base vehicle fleet will use alternative fuels, with that number increasing to 70 percent by 2015.

A significant hurdle to making fuel cells widely available is the difficulty of cost-effectively producing and delivering hydrogen in large quantities. ONR is working with researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa's Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, the Department of Energy and other public and private organizations to tackle this challenge.

Once solved, FCV deployment could be part of the answer to replacing gasoline-powered vehicles in on-base transportation fleets. This would help achieve the secretary's goal of reducing fossil fuel use in DON's commercial vehicle fleet.

In addition to the FCV, Mabus heard firsthand about the Micro Auto Gasification System (MAGS), a high-tech trash disposal process that can reduce a 50-gallon bag of waste to a half-pint jar of harmless ash. The MAGS unit is currently undergoing evaluation by U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific at Camp HM Smith, Hawaii. To see MAGS in action, go to: http://www.youtube.com/usnavyresearch#p/u/0/CyRNWeQNGO8.

Hydrogen fuel cells create electricity through a chemical reaction between hydrogen and an oxidizing agent, typically oxygen from the air, or a stored oxygen source when air is not available. The byproduct, or emission, is water. Because of their fuel efficiencies, fuel cells offer an attractive alternative to gasoline and other fossil fuels.

Other ONR-funded research efforts with fuel cells include the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL)-developed Ion Tiger unmanned aerial vehicle, which set an endurance record for a fuel cell-powered aircraft after more than 24 continuous hours of flight. NRL is also testing this technology as a potential power source for long-endurance UUVs.

Future ONR research will test the viability of using fuel cells—as well as alternative fuels, including biofuels—as a stationary source of off-board power. Fuel cell technology is just one component of ONR's energy research portfolio aimed at helping DON meet its goal of generating 50 percent of shore energy—land-based power used for docked vessels—from alternative sources by 2020.

About the Office of Naval Research

The Department of the Navy's Office of Naval Research (ONR) provides the science and technology necessary to maintain the Navy and Marine Corps' technological advantage. Through its affiliates, ONR is a leader in science and technology with engagement in 50 states, 70 countries, 1,035 institutions of higher learning and 914 industry partners. ONR employs approximately 1,400 people, comprising uniformed, civilian and contract personnel, with additional employees at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C.

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