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AFSOC projects lead to energy-saving discoveries

by Ashley M. Wright
Air Force Special Operations Command Public Affairs

10/5/2011 - HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. (AFNS) -- In the midst of Energy Awareness Month, Air Force Special Operations Command members are working to decrease the Air Force's $8 billion a year cost for electricity and fuel via several renewable energy projects.

Project Renewable Energy Demonstration, or Project RED, consists of a variety of wind turbines, solar collectors and an algae lab in addition to a revoluntionary plasma waste-to-energy system.

"We are learning every day," said George Omley, the AFSOC environmental chief. "We are comparing the various systems to find out which is the most efficient and the most cost effective."

Project RED keeps five small-scale solar collector systems, officials said. Each is metered independent from each other to determine output per square foot per dollar. The cost effective winner was the solar collector system that tracks the sun during the day.

"Even though it cost more, it paid more out," Omley said. "As the wind blows, it puts out a little bit of power, but compared to the solar panels, it does not compete."

The combination of the wind turbines and the solar panels are producing 10 times more power than needed, he said.

"It is a surprising success," Omley said. "We are charging this electric vehicle with the sun to give us free mileage and running our algae lab (while) using only 10 percent of the power. The other 90 percent is running backwards on the grid."

The algae lab itself is still in the early stages, officials said. In theory, carbon dioxide from the plasma waste-to-energy system and the water treatment system here would create the algae once combined with water and sunlight. The oils would separate and be used to produce biodiesel fuel.

"In this case, the thinking was if we could find a company that was interested in producing biodiesel from our algae and nutrients, then we would get either a payment in kind or a fraction of the biodiesel," Omley said. "The jury is still out."

The largest part of the project is the Transportable Plasma Waste-to-Energy System, which in April began converting 4,200 tons of garbage per year to usable energy and producing intangible benefits by reducing the command's overall carbon footprint, officials said. The system uses the intense heat of plasma to convert domestic waste into a synthetic gas that provides energy to the system.

"This is history in the making," said Terry Yonkers, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Logistics, who was on hand for the April ribbon-cutting ceremony. "This is the first waste-to-energy project of this technology to go into an air base. It has been a long time in the making."

Intangible benefits from the system include keeping nearly 8.3 tons of daily domestic trash from Hurlburt out of landfills for future generations, reducing gas emissions by 83,000 tons per year and eliminating toxic materials while producing energy, officials said. The system is designed to hold more than 11 tons of trash per day.

"The plasma system has proven the gasification system works," Omley said.

Several improvements are in the works for the system such as a more productive flaring tower flame arrester, the officials said.

"There are things that we are learning every day and (we are) making improvements every day," Omley said. "The system has been operating the generator at about 25 to 30 percent of the time and that is increasing. Ideally that would go up to 100 percent. Once it goes up to 100 percent, it should be energy neutral."

The system can be transported to bases and deployed locations around the globe to shrink the ecological footprint of the U.S. military by reducing the need to burn waste. While other similar land based systems exist, none in the U.S. are using this design, Omley said. As a system of this size has never been built, testing is ongoing to see exactly how much energy will be created. The Hurlburt system is five times larger than its predecessor located in Montreal, Canada, which was created by Pyrogenesis that also assisted with this project.

The system cost approximately $7.4 million to build, officials said. The funding for the technology originated from the U.S. Foreign Comparative Testing Office, Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century, the Canadian government, the Air Force Surgeon General's Office at the Pentagon and Gulf Power.

Since 2003, the Air Force has reduced energy use by nearly 15 percent, water consumption by 11 percent, and more than six percent of all electricity is obtained from renewable sources. The Air Force energy strategy for meeting these goals is to reduce demand, increase supply and change the culture.

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