Solar Power for the Marine Corps

Thirteen pre-selected vendors have set up camp in a remote area — known as experimental forward operating base, or ExFob — that simulates a Marine Corps outpost in Afghanistan.

Most of the companies are commercial suppliers of renewable energy systems, and are hoping to capitalize on the Marine Corps’ growing appetite for green products. Marine leaders plan to spend millions of dollars on clean-energy technologies that will help bring down fuel costs and increase the energy self-sufficiency of deployed forces in combat zones.

In Afghanistan, the Marine Corps uses 200,000 gallons of fuel per day. Most of that fuel is consumed by electricity generators. By replacing conventional generators with hybrid solar systems, marines could potentially drop their fuel demand in half.

The ExFob is the brainchild of former commandant Gen. James Conway, who decided that the traditional military procurement system was not going to help the Corps get what it needed, on the desired timeline. The ExFob functions as a small, highly select trade show. Applicants are carefully vetted before being allowed to bring products to the base. Marines want “mature” off-the-shelf technologies that are in production and could be deployed quickly. Buyers get to see the products operating in a war-like environment and can better determine whether they suit marines’ needs.

This is the third ExFob the Marine Corps has hosted since 2009. It will focus on two key areas: Concentrated solar harvesting technology to produce power and hot water at remote forward operating bases; and systems that increase the fuel efficiency of tactical vehicles.

Concentrated solar power photovoltaics, or CPV, is one of the newer forms of solar energy technology. Systems use optics such as lenses to concentrate a large amount of sunlight onto a small area of solar photovoltaic materials to generate electricity. Concentrated solar energy photovoltaics is a better option for the military than traditional solar panels because the equipment is smaller and more deployable.

One of the vendors, Sactec Solar, has a mobile power center that can be packed in a shipping container.

Finding ways to reduce trucks’ fuel consumption is another goal of the ExFob. One of the products, for instance, is a hybrid power unit that marines could install on their Humvees and medium trucks and possibly slash fuel use by 75 percent, according to the suppliers. The “vehicle integrated power unit regulator,” or VIPUR, is aimed at vehicles that use excessive idling as a means of generating electrical energy.

VIPUR, made by International Battery and NEST Energy Systems, uses an auxiliary alternator and rechargeable lithium-iron phosphate batteries housed in a reinforced, heavy-duty aluminum container that is secured to a frame and mounted on the vehicle. At the ExFob, the system will be be paired with a 430-watt portable solar panel that will charge the unit and provide additional solar energy to power marines’ electronic devices.

“Over the years a lot of lip service has been given to incorporating sustainable, hybridized systems as a means of reducing fuel consumption in theater, but the Marine Corps has actually done much of the heavy lifting,” says Tom Lederle, vice president of NEST Energy.

Another product that targets vehicle fuel use is the Dynasys diesel-electric auxiliary power unit that is sold to commercial truck operators. APUs save truck companies money as idling a Class 8 truck engine for in-cab comfort can be costly. The auxiliary power lets the driver shut down your engine and still run the air conditioning.

The ExFob begins Aug. 15, and ends Aug. 19. According to an unofficial list, the following vendors will be displaying products:

• BAE Systems: Electrified accessories for fuel savings and mobility

• Hoydon Inc.: Dynasys auxiliary power unit

• ITT Power Solutions: Vehicle mounted air-cooled alternator

• Essence Solar Solutions: Mobile tactical solar harvester

• NEST Energy: Vehicle integrated power unit regulator

• SACTEC Solar: Advanced mobile power system

• Cogenra Solar: CPV solar thermal system

• Northern Lights Applied Sciences: Tactical solar generator

• EMCORE: CPV for deployable power

• SBM Solar Inc.: Lightweight non-glass solar module for vehicles

• Dewey Electronics: Enclosed vehicle power supply

• MILSPRAY: Expeditionary solar renewable energy system