Army scientists develop deployable renewable-energy solutions


ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — Soldiers stationed in remote combat outposts face logistics and safety challenges to power their radios, laptops and GPS units.

U.S. Army scientists are researching methods to harness the sun and wind to ease the burdens associated with transporting fossil fuels to dangerous areas.

Marnie de Jong, an electrical engineer with the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, is helping to develop renewable-energy based microgrids that work independently of traditional grid power.

Microgrids help to integrate different sources of energy for more efficient use and storage, she said.

“There has been a larger demand from the field for fuel reduction and power in remote locations,” de Jong said. “As that demand has increased, we have increased our focus in those areas.

“Microgrids will be able to take solar, wind and batteries and use them together. You can use solar when there is no wind available. Different pieces of the puzzle work better in different places. By making this a solution set, you can take what you need given your location.”

To provide alternative power sources to Soldiers in combat, de Jong and her colleagues at RDECOM’s Communications–Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center are developing two systems — Reusing Existing Natural Energy from Wind and Solar, or RENEWS, and Renewable Energy for Distributed Undersupplied Command Environments, or REDUCE.


CERDEC started work on RENEWS in 2009 under an American Reinvestment and Recovery Act program for photovoltaics in which it partnered with RDECOM’s Army Research Laboratory and Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center. The team has developed RENEWS prototypes and is finishing internal testing, de Jong said.

Units are being sent for operational assessments from Soldiers at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., and U.S. Africa Command.

“The RENEWS system is completely renewable energy [with] solar and wind components,” de Jong said. “It’s meant for smaller, mostly communications systems in very remote locations that are difficult to get to re-supply fuel or [where] it might be dangerous. It would be a self-sustaining system.”

RENEWS is designed to power two or three laptops continuously as long as there is power coming daily from the solar panels or wind turbine, she said. The storage component will be able to provide power at peak demand for about five hours when energy is not being generated by the renewable components.

The RENEWS components weight about 100 pounds, and it is stored in two cases weighing about 70 pounds each.

The Army intends the RENEWS and REDUCE systems to be complementary, resulting in power-grid technology that addresses power generation, distribution, load, renewables and storage.

A major concern for military logisticians is securing routes for fuel-truck convoys. According to Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, environment and technology, said one in 46 convoys suffers a casualty.

“There will be a reduction in fuel that is necessary for regular operations,” de Jong said. “That is one of the major concerns in the field in transporting fuel — logistics and safety. We are working to reduce fuel consumption by supplementing generators with renewable energy sources.”


Work on the three-year REDUCE program is in the early stages, de Jong said. It is designed to be towed on a Humvee trailer.

“The key behind the system is the intelligent power management and distribution, as well as the plug and play capability for devices. Automatic-device detection and power distribution make it a network of power systems that is capable of adjusting based on mission demands and needs,” she said.

The REDUCE integrates renewables with traditional fossil-fuel generators to reduce consumption. The goal is to ease the Soldier’s work by having the system manage all the power.

“The problem with a lot of [Army] systems is that they don’t all work together. Pieces from one don’t necessarily work with pieces from another,” de Jong said. “You can’t get two systems to parallel when they’re made from different places.

“Under the REDUCE system, we’re looking to make that all happen automatically. We [will] have an interface defined for all the systems components such that you don’t run into the problem where the different pieces don’t work together.”


Scientists and engineers across the Army focus on removing obstacles for Soldiers. By integrating smart power systems, CERDEC’s aim is to allow Soldiers to concentrate on their missions instead of monitoring power systems.

“One of the biggest challenges is getting different systems to work together,” de Jong said. “It’s really frustrating for Soldiers in the field when they just want to use this cable with this battery, and it doesn’t work. One of the major technical challenges is having standardization for interfaces and smarts that make all the pieces work seamlessly so the Soldier doesn’t have to configure anything.

“Soldiers will appreciate the plug and play capability. They don’t need to be an expert in power systems. They can just turn it on, and it gives them situational awareness into their power systems. It will report back to them what is going on and if there is a problem.”


The RENEWS and REDUCE systems will also contribute to the Army’s goal of increasing energy efficiency and lessening the reliance on fossil fuels, she said.

“Renewable energy solutions are helping to reduce the carbon footprint. They generate energy more efficiently on-site from renewable sources. It’s good for the Army, good for the Soldier, and good for the environment,” de Jong said.

Improved batteries, SWIPES to lighten Soldiers’ load


ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (May 7, 2012) — A Soldier treks through treacherous terrain in a dangerous combat zone with a rucksack filled with meals ready-to-eat, first-aid gear, weapons, ammunition, radios and batteries.

The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command is lightening the Soldier’s load by developing smaller and lighter batteries. Scientists and engineers are unburdening the Soldier, increasing maneuverability, reducing fatigue, and cutting time needed for battery re-charging.

Christopher Hurley, an electronics engineer with RDECOM’s Communications–Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center for six years, leads the battery development projects team.

“One of the major projects on the battery team is trying to reduce the logistics burden,” Hurley said. “We investigate state-of-the-art battery chemistries that will help us to decrease the Soldier load.”


Hurley and his colleagues have reduced the size and weight of the standard BA-5590 battery by half, but the performance and run time has remained the same. The Half-Size BA-5590 plugs into the same equipment, about 80 types of radios and robots, as the full-size version.

“The Soldier can still perform the same [mission] with half the weight and volume in batteries,” Hurley said. “It will lighten their load and increase their maneuverability so they have more freedom to get around on the battlefield.”

The research team accomplished the size and weight savings through improvements in the battery’s materials, he said. One of the battery chemistries under development is lithium-carbon monoflouride.

“A lot of the research is done on the materials. Once we identified a chemistry that has potential to lighten the Soldier load, a lot goes into it in terms of the raw materials — the cathode, anode, and energy-storage components that afford us a high-energy density battery,” Hurley said.

The Army has been working on the battery for five years, and it should be fielded to Soldiers in about a year, Hurley said.


As the Army transforms to meet changing battlefield threats, Soldiers need to be agile without carrying boxed-sized batteries around their bodies. CERDEC is partnering with RDECOM’s Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center to develop a 0.8 inch-thick battery that can be placed into a Soldier’s vest.

“We’re putting those same battery chemistries into a wearable battery configuration known as the Polymer Conformal Battery,” Hurley said. “The idea is to keep it close to the body so there are not a lot of projections from the body. When the Soldier is in a prone position or tight spaces, you don’t have huge batteries sticking out.

“The next step is to get it into an integrated, wearable vest system so that Soldiers can wear this battery to have it run to all of their equipment.”


The Soldier Wearable Integrated Power System, known as SWIPES, supplies a main battery from a central location to power all end-items.

SWIPES places pouch-mounted chargers and power cables for batteries, GPS units, shot-detection systems and handheld communications into the vest. It allows for extended mission times without the need to of swap batteries or power sources by keeping devices charged at all times.

SWIPES won one of the top 10 U.S. Army Greatest Inventions in 2010.

“All of the cabling is routed through the different pockets for radios and equipment. The idea is to have this battery power all of the equipment,” Hurley said.

The Army Rapid Equipping Force and Project Manager Soldier Warrior have started field testing several hundred SWIPES units.

“The major benefit is the weight savings. For a typical 72-hour mission, a Soldier will save up to 12 pounds of batteries they don’t have to carry,” Hurley said.

Married Army scientists bolster biological-threat detection

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — A married couple, both U.S. Army research biologists, is working together to improve Soldiers’ ability to detect, identify and protect against potentially lethal biological threat agents.


Jody and Mark Gostomski’s research at Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, or ECBC, helps the Soldier defend against hazards in the field.

Mark works with dangerous organisms in ECBC’s Biosafety Level 3,. or BSL-3, laboratory, which is one of 45 in the country. He dons sophisticated protective equipment in highly controlled lab conditions to prepare the Army for worst-case biowarfare scenarios.

“We’re dressed head to foot in a Tyvek suit. We have a powered air-purifying respirator,” he said. “Everything we do is double-gloved. BSL-3 organisms are live, and they are higher risk.

“A requirement for Biosafety Level 3 is at least the opportunity to be vaccinated against different organisms — hepatitis, anthrax, botulism.”

Mark is researching the validation of a DNA extraction kit that will replace two kits, which will help streamline the bio detection process.

Jody manages a project to supply genomic material for the Critical Reagents Program. Her role in CRP is to provide high-quality and validated reference materials for use in the development and optimization of biological-detection technologies.

She plans laboratory activities, conducts quality control analysis on the material, and interacts with external agencies.

“It shows how collaboration among members of different branches really comes together and makes for a better product for the customer. For this project, we grow and isolate materials in the laboratory, at both the Biosafety Levels 2 and 3,” she said.


Mark and Jody say that while they are focused on their daily research in the laboratory, it is imperative to remember the end-users — Soldiers.

“It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. We do our job, and a lot of times we don’t think about who it impacts,” Mark said. “The work we do is ultimately for the Soldier.”

“The project I’m working on will help the Soldiers rapidly identify biothreat agents using the Joint Biological Agent Identification and Identification System,” he said. “They can find a sample in the field [and] process it through this kit in a matter of minutes. Within an hour, they have their data.”

Jody echoed Mark’s focus on empowering and protecting the Soldiers and Army civilians who will rely on the equipment’s scientific foundation during a mission. She helped train members of the 20th Support Command and CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosives) Analytical and Remediation Activity.

“It’s easy to forget how your job impacts the warfighter,” Jody said. “When you’re in the lab in your own little space, it’s hard to see how that has a profound impact on the overall mission.

“I’ve had the opportunity to train mobile-lab users who go into the field. They may or may not be Soldiers, but they’re on a mission to collect samples and ultimately protect against any type of biowarfare agent.”

Jody said the opportunity to interact with end-users has expanded her understanding of the mission.

“I got to step outside of my laboratory setting and take the expertise and knowledge that I learned by working with these biological platforms [to] stand in front of a room of physical scientists and show them how to use these technologies,” she said.


The couple met in 2004 when Jody joined ECBC after graduating with a bachelor of science in biology from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. They both work for the BioSensors Branch within the BioSciences Division.

Jody said that Mark served as one of her mentors. He started working for ECBC 13 years ago while attending Towson University; he graduated in 2003 with a bachelor of science in biology.

“We really got to know each other throughout the course of five years of working together. We built a very strong friendship, both inside and outside of work,” Jody said.

They married in May 2011.

“What I really like about working with Mark is the reason that he and I became such good friends before we got married,” Jody said. “He is just a great sounding board. He is always the person I would go to when I had issues in the laboratory.

“If I had questions or needed help troubleshooting something, he was always my go-to guy. He always resolved my problems.”


Jody and Mark encourage young students to explore science outside the classroom to see whether it would be a strong career fit. They are both studying for master’s degrees in biotechnology at Johns Hopkins University.

“As I got to college and had more experience in the laboratory, it was interesting to take what you were learning in the textbook and see that come to life through experiments in the laboratory,” Jody said. “I liked how hands-on it could be.

“If you have an interest in a science or engineering field, take every opportunity to become as exposed to those fields as you can with an internship at the college level or a shadowing experience in high school. Do something to get away from the textbook and actually get into the field where they’re using the technologies that you’re learning about,” she added.

Army scientist shields Soldiers from chemical agents

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — To shield American Soldiers from emerging chemical threats in combat, the U.S. Army turns to scientists such as Frederick Cox and his team at Edgewood Chemical Biological Center.

Cox, branch chief of ECBC’s Chemical, Biological and Radiological Filtration Group, manages 25 scientists who are entrusted with filters that protect Warfighters and civilians from potentially dangerous airborne chemicals and biological hazards.


“From a Soldier’s perspective, the most important aspect of the filters is the total burden to them. [It’s the] weight, size and bulk,” Cox said.

Cox and his colleagues examine each aspect in military filters. This attention to detail enables Soldiers to overcome the challenges associated with completing a mission in a contaminated area.

“Can [Soldiers] fire a rifle with a mask filter up against the stock of that rifle? Seemingly little things can go a long way,” Cox said. “Also, can we make it last longer? Every filter has a life. If you’re in a contaminated environment, you want to keep that life as long as possible so you don’t have to change it out.

“Even incremental improvements can lessen the burden on the Soldier. A quarter-inch difference in diameter allows you to sight your gun better.”


ECBC designs filtration systems to protect Soldiers, as well as buildings and armored vehicles for military services and government agencies, Cox said. Army scientists must be ready to respond immediately to concerns from theater with answers or solutions.

“When we get a call from a commander in the field who says, ‘We have encountered this threat. Are we protected? We have this problem with this system. Can you design something that will eliminate the contaminant or threat in that system?’ We’re able to answer them directly, ‘Yes, you’re protected.’ Or [we] come up with a system, test it, and deliver it. That’s definitely the most satisfying,” he said.

Cox said he and his fellow scientists take their responsibility seriously because they handle some of the most toxic substances in the world, and any mistake can be lethal.

“When [the military places technology] into a fielded item, everything that might go wrong we’ve explored. We’ve pushed the technology to the limits so they function at an optimal level,” Cox said.

“We feel a certain responsibility working on chemical protection. We’re responsible to the end user — the Soldier in the field using the mask. When we see a problem in a filter, we go the extra mile to make sure we eliminate it or find out what the root cause is. That touches everyone on the team,” he said.


America’s decade at war in the Middle East brought unexpected challenges to ECBC’s scientists, Cox said. Instead of sophisticated chemical-weapon systems, Soldiers were confronted with small, concealed caches.

“One issue that we’ve had [in Afghanistan is] clandestine [drug] laboratories. [Soldiers] would encounter a totally different class of chemicals than you would expect for chemical warfare agents,” Cox said. “They’re not something we’re normally concerned with, but that’s something that Soldiers were encountering.

“Another example is chlorine. Early in the Iraq war, there were improvised explosives with chlorine. That crystallized an effort here working with the Joint Program Manager for Protection to ensure that our filters would protect against it.”


Cox, who has worked for three years at ECBC’s Research and Technology Directorate, earned a bachelor of science in chemistry from Loyola University and a doctorate in analytical chemistry from the University of Delaware. He worked for defense contractor Battelle for six years before joining ECBC.

“For a student interested in science, engineering or technology field, my advice would be to pursue it all the way through. The road from high school to college to graduate school is long.

Eventually, you’ll be able to point to something and say, ‘I had a hand in that. I was the one responsible for building that.’ You’ll be able to reap the rewards of what you’ve been after,” Cox said.

APG leadership briefs Congressional staffers

 APG leaders brief Congressional staffers

APG senior commander Maj. Gen. Nick Justice talks with staff from Maryland’s Congressional delegation March 30 at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — The installation is quickly becoming the U.S. Army’s hub for science and technology, APG senior commander Maj. Gen. Nick Justice told staff from Maryland’s Congressional delegation March 30.

“This place will be the biggest success story in BRAC,” Justice said, referencing base realignment and closure that is bringing thousands of high-tech jobs to northeast Maryland.

Representatives of U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Benjamin Cardin and U.S. Reps. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Andy Harris and Roscoe Bartlett gathered at the Berger Laboratory Complex at the start of their APG tour.

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APG leader encourages students to pursue careers in science

APG leader encourages students to pursue careers in science

Gary Martin, U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command executive deputy to the commanding general, speaks during the Futures 11 conference March 24 at Harford Technical High School.

BEL AIR, Md. — The future of Harford County gathered March 24 at Harford Technical High School to explore their education and careers.

About 800 high-achieving 11th-grade students from Harford Technical, Joppatowne, Aberdeen, Bel Air and Edgewood high schools attended the Futures 11 conference to prepare for the next phase of their lives.

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RDECOM organizes to maximize integration

RDECOM Town Hall

Maj. Gen. Nick Justices points to the future as he addresses the assembled RDECOM staff. (Photo by Conrad Johnson)

The commander of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, gathered his military and civilian staff at the Edgewood Area Conference Center Oct. 4 to inaugurate the organization’s future.

The emphasis, Maj. Gen. Nick Justice said, is on integration.

“We don’t want an all-star team,” Justice said. “What we want is the best team in the country. We can create greater capacity and greater strength with the sum of the parts of this organization. You can see the power of that integration.”

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U.S. Army technologies to star at inaugural Maker Faire Detroit

The U.S. Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command will engage Makers – techies and Do-It-Yourself enthusiasts – from all over the nation at Maker Faire Detroit, July 31-Aug. 1.
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DoD Buzz: Army builds small unit net cloud

DoD Buzz: Army builds small unit net cloud posted an interesting story about future connectivity in the field. “The Army took a big step for­ward in its quest for the “holy grail” of bat­tle­field net­work con­nec­tiv­ity: pro­vid­ing satel­lite imagery, video feeds from aer­ial drones, text mes­sag­ing and more robust com­mu­ni­ca­tions to small net­worked teams on the move through rough ter­rain,” writes Greg Grant. “The idea is to cre­ate a pla­toon or smaller unit com­puter “cloud” that can move with the sol­dier as they move.” Read more…

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Army pushes for advancements in walking robots

BigDog is a rough-terrain robot that walks, runs, climbs and carries heavy loads. It is powered by an engine that drives a hydraulic actuation system and has four legs that are articulated like an animal’s with compliant elements to absorb shock and recycle energy from one step to the next. (BigDog image provided courtesy of Boston Dynamics ©2009.)
The future of robotics offers almost limitless possibilities for the U.S. Army, which is placing a significant emphasis on this new but quickly emerging field. To facilitate ideas, development and advancement in the robotics field, the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center hosted the sixth TARDEC Robotics Quarterly Workshop this past September. Patrick Pinter has the story. Read more…

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Picatinny breaks ground for incoming Naval facility

Picatinny breaks ground for incoming Naval facility

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. — During a ceremony here Nov. 9, Picatinny officials broke ground for a new Naval packaging, handling, storage and transportation facility that will house Navy operations being transferred to Picatinny as a result of 2005 Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommendations. Eric Kowal from the Picatinny Public Affairs has the story. Read more…

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The Smart Bullet – The 50 Best Inventions of 2009 – TIME

Smart Bullet, Photo courtesy TIME Magazine

“You fire a bullet, and it explodes where you tell it to. That’s the essence of the XM25, a gun that fires explosive rounds able to neutralize enemies camped out behind cover,” says TIME Magazine’s article on the 50 best inventions of the year. The air-burst technology for the bullet originated in the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center as an Army Advanced Technology Demonstration Program. The Research, Development and Engineering Command workforce continues to come up with new ideas to help today’s Soldier.  Read more…