AFRL developing rapidly-deployable, independent energy sources for remote military sites

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Providing power to remote military installations is a challenge under the best of circumstances, but if power is suddenly cut off, the situation can become critical.  The AFRL Materials and Manufacturing Directorate is researching ways to solve this problem through renewable and rapidly-deployable energy solutions.

Researchers from the AFRL Advanced Power Technology Office have embarked on a project to demonstrate rapidly-deployable, off-grid energy technologies for increased mission energy resiliency.

EARRS, which stands for Energy Assurance at Remote Radar Sites, is a year-long demonstration effort involving two different power generation technologies installed at isolated locations in Alaska and Hawaii.

In Kotzebue, Alaska, where the Pacific Air Forces Regional Support Center and 611th Civil Engineer Squadron operate a remote radar range 40 miles north of the Arctic Circle, the team is demonstrating an energy-harvesting wind turbine.  Along the original Distant Early Warning, or DEW Line, this arctic location was once part of a line of radar stations set up to detect and warn of invasion by enemy forces.  Here the AFRL team, along with University of Dayton Research Institute personnel, installed two wind turbines that are expected to generate 12 kilowatts of power to offset the grid load. The goal of this initial effort is to evaluate the performance of the turbines before recommending the addition of more units to cover the entire load. 

The unique aspect of these wind turbines is their transportability, ruggedness, and easy installation that make them ideal for this austere environment.  The towers, developed by ARE Telecom & Wind, were palletized at the request of AFRL to make them easily-transportable and able to be quickly set up by a minimal crew.  The AFRL team assembled and installed the 50-foot assembly in under four days with five people.

“What we hope to achieve with this demonstration is to gather data and determine the effectiveness and power generation capability of the wind turbine, as well as the robustness of the tower and assembly in this extreme environment,” said Capt Jason Goins, APTO project engineer.  He added that temperatures in the region can reach -40 degrees Fahrenheit or below with extreme winds, making this location an ideal place to test the design.

Meanwhile, over 3000 miles away at another Pacific Air Forces Regional Support Center and 611th Civil Engineer Squadron site, a new solar panel design will focus on the same basic principles.  On Mt. Koke’e, Hawaii, the EARRS project will demonstrate self-sufficient, rapidly-deployable power-generation, along with a revolutionary lighter-weight and durable solar panel design.  These new panels are capable of being shipped and installed quickly, and are impact-tolerant.

The solar panels, developed by California-based Armageddon Energy, differ from traditional panels in that instead of being encased in glass, the solar cells rest atop a foam board and are encased with a transparent laminated coating.  This assembly makes the cells 50 percent thinner and 33 percent lighter.  It also makes them extremely durable.  Traditional solar panels will no longer function if the glass enclosure is broken.  However, the new design can endure a puncture or breakage, with the non-damaged area remaining fully-functional.

According to Goins, the lighter-weight design also enables easier setup and installation. 

“What would normally take around a half day to install can now be done within minutes,” he said, adding that the thinner design also means that more cells can be packed into one shipment.

According to Goins, following the demonstration, AFRL researchers will evaluate the performance and robustness of both the wind turbine and the solar panels, take lessons learned, improve upon any problems, and build a business case analysis that will be used toward maturing the technologies.  If successful, the APTO team will recommend the technology to Air Force Civil Engineering Center and other potential users for inclusion in Forward Operating Bases and deployment equipment packages. The added capability would make deployed forces more self-sustainable and energy-resilient, reducing the logistic burden of fossil fuels.