Energy efficiency research stateside could save lives downrange

Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade respond to an attack on an oil tanker in the Wardak province of Afghanistan, Jan. 3, 2010.


By ANNETTE CARY | Tri-City Herald | Published: January 25, 2013

Research in the Tri-Cities to improve energy efficiency could save the lives of American soldiers at war zone bases.

The Department of Defense awarded almost $2.8 million Wednesday to Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland and almost $1.8 million to Infinia Technology Corp. in Kennewick for research on systems that would more efficiently heat or cool buildings.

The Department of Defense knows that's important from its experience in Afghanistan and Iraq, said Sharon Burke, the Department of Defense's assistant secretary for operation energy plans and programs, in a conference call with reporters Wednesday.

Thousands of troops there have been killed or injured as convoys moving fuel are targeted for attacks. But if less fuel was needed for troop operations, including heating and cooling bases, fewer convoys would be exposed to danger.

A 2010 Marine Corps assessment estimated that almost 25 percent of the fuel used in Afghanistan goes to heating and cooling buildings, said Tom Hicks, the Navy's deputy assistant secretary for energy.

On Wednesday, the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy gave out $8.5 million for research in the Tri-Cities and elsewhere in the nation for projects with the potential for a high energy-efficiency impact for the military but that were too early in development to attract commercial investment.

The research could help the military meet its goal of reducing fuel for heating and cooling by up to 50 percent, Hicks said.

PNNL will use its money over three years on developing an air conditioner that could use waste heat from a diesel generator. The heat pump could decrease the amount of fuel used for cooling at war zone bases by 50 percent.

Adsorption chillers, which run on waste or solar heat, already are commercially available, but so large they are used primarily for commercial buildings.

PNNL has developed a nanomaterial for the chillers that has a much higher refrigerant capacity and faster refrigerant adsorption than conventional silica-based adsorbents. In adsorption a thin layer of material adheres to a surface rather than being absorbed into it.

The nanomaterial allows a more energy-efficient, less costly and much more compact adsorption air conditioner that could compete in size and cost with traditional vapor compression-system air conditioners.

PNNL fellow Pete McGrail is leading the research project.

Infinia Technology Corp. is working on an energy-efficient and compact heat pump based on the Stirling cycle.

The Stirling cycle is best known for converting the sun's energy into electricity. But it also can use electricity to heat or cool and can do that more efficiently than conventional vapor compression systems.

The company's reversible Stirling cycle device could allow cost-effective mass production of heat pumps that could reduce the amount of fuel used at war zone bases by 20 percent to 50 percent for cooling and more than 60 percent for heating.


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